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Embezzling Charges May Grow for Fallen Socialite



The former employers of well-known interior designer and accused embezzler Michael Baker say they're discovering more Baker-related losses.

Baker left Richmond three years ago amid questions about his business dealings. Some of his customers at Plaid & Stripes on Libbie and Patterson avenues complained that they paid for items that never showed up, or that they'd been overcharged.

One of his clients, Carolyn Meares, won a civil lawsuit against Baker in 2003, alleging Baker's unauthorized use of her credit card and his failure to deliver more than $100,000 in fabrics and interior design work.

But Baker's most recent troubles have been in Charleston, S.C., where he worked for Charleston Gas Light fixture company as a salesman until April 2005. His employers say they discovered signs of impropriety and confronted Baker. Then he disappeared until mid-September, when police caught him in Florida.

Baker has yet to appear in court on charges of embezzling $57,000 from Charleston Gas Light Co. But last week the company's officers said they're upping the ante. "We're in six figures so far," says Mitch Mitchell, vice president of the company.

After meeting with the Charleston County assistant solicitor assigned to the case, Mitchell and Charleston Gas Light president Debra McKinley say they've been told that Baker is bellying up, hoping to skate off with a soft sentence.

"It seems he's admitting guilt or complicity," Mitchell says, "and it's more a matter of how much it's going to cost him."

With no one to pay his $100,000 bond, it's unlikely Baker will be able to commit to a plea deal that's based on restitution. "He's a man with no money," Mitchell says.

Meanwhile, Baker continues to sleep in far less extravagant surroundings than he once enjoyed. He's been a guest at Charleston County Jail since his extradition from Florida. Baker had been working in a Fort Lauderdale shop selling teak furniture.

McKinley and Mitchell are still going over records to determine just how much Baker allegedly cost them and Charleston Gas Light. After Baker fled, Mitchell says, "Customers called looking for what they had purchased." And that was just the beginning. The company hired a forensic technician who says he found more damaging information on Baker's company-owned laptop.

In addition to supporting the criminal charges against Baker, McKinley and Mitchell say they filed a lawsuit in Charleston County Civil Court 18 months ago. A call to the Charleston County Solicitor was not returned by press time. S

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