Embezzlement Case Is Dropped and Detective Suspended
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Fairfax County prosecutors yesterday dropped an embezzlement case against a county employee who was investigated by a police detective who was having an affair with the employee's wife.
The abrupt ending came on the day that Donald E. Travers was scheduled for trial, nearly a year after prosecutors successfully argued that the affair had no legal bearing on the case. A Fairfax judge called the conduct of then-Detective William E. Baitinger "deplorable and inexcusable, and a discredit to the Fairfax County Police Department," but rejected Travers's motion to dismiss the case.
On the eve of the trial, however, "we just decided there were distinct problems with the case," said Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. He declined to discuss the problems but said, "I'm satisfied, in spite of the problems, he [Travers] is leaving county government and he's finished with this county government."
Travers's lawyer, Peter D. Greenspun, said the case was dropped "because I believe the prosecution had zero confidence in their key witness, a police officer who had misled the prosecution, the county and his own department's internal affairs investigation."
Police officials suspended Baitinger for four days without pay and transferred him to patrol duty, though that had no impact on his salary. Police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said the department had no comment on the conclusion of the case.
Baitinger, 47, was a property crimes detective in the Fair Oaks station in August 2004 when he began investigating Travers for allegedly stealing computer equipment and tools from the county government center. Travers, 47, worked in facilities management as a carpenter, and records show the case was launched by his then-wife, Teresa Travers, who sent detailed e-mails to the county listing the property she believed was stolen.
In early September, Donald Travers was charged with three counts of embezzlement. In addition, Baitinger charged Travers's supervisor with obstruction of justice for failing to corroborate the embezzlement case. The supervisor later was acquitted, and the county was forced to pay $3,278 for his legal fees.
Early in the investigation, a police internal affairs investigation found, Baitinger "developed an intimate relationship with Donald Travers' wife." The detective, who was married, "utilized county resources, computer, telephone, cruiser and employee hours to continue to further the relationship" with the suspect's wife, which he failed to disclose to prosecutors or county attorneys, police determined.
Baitinger was also "cautioned" by two of his colleagues about the relationship with Teresa Travers "while pursuing criminal charges against her husband," the investigation found.
Greenspun tried to get the case dismissed for governmental misconduct. But Fairfax Circuit Court Judge R. Terrence Ney found that the police did not "set out to use sex as a weapon to investigate" the case, and that Baitinger did not use "his relationship with Mrs. Travers to achieve governmental ends."
Baitinger, who remains on the force, could not be reached for comment yesterday. Greenspun said Travers would have no comment.