Protesters and victims gathered Wednesday outside the Union County Courthouse. They were there for the first court appearance of Steffen Baldwin, former chief humane agent for the Union County Humane Society. (Journal-Tribune photo by Sam Dillon)
$200,000 bond set for Steffen Baldwin
Nearly a dozen protesters gathered outside the Union County Courthouse Wednesday in preparation for Steffen Baldwin’s first court appearance.
Baldwin, the former chief humane agent for the Union County Humane Society, is charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, bribery, 15 counts of telecommunications fraud, 13 cases of cruelty to animals, six counts of tampering with records, two counts of grand theft, two counts of falsification, and one count each of grand theft of a firearm and impersonation of a peace officer.
Baldwin, also known as Steffen Finkelstein, 39, of 32035 Mountain Shadow Road, Acton, CA, was arraigned Wednesday in Union County Common Pleas Court.
Judge Mark O’Connor was assigned to the case because Michael Streng, who is representing Baldwin, belongs to the same law firm where Common Pleas Court Judge Don Fraser was a partner.
O’Connor set bond at $200,000, the amount requested by Assistant Union County Prosecutor Melissa Chase, who called Baldwin, “a flight risk.”
Chase told the judge Baldwin hasn’t lived in the state for more than two years. She said he has minimal family in the area and all his financial resources are in California.
Chase said Baldwin has been under investigation for years. She told the judge that when he learned of the investigation, “he began making plans to move from the state of Ohio.” In fact, she said that investigators executed a search warrant on his moving van in an effort to gather information and evidence before it was taken out of state.
Streng said his client is not going anywhere. The defense attorney said his client has obviously known for years that investigators were looking at him.
“He could have fled at any point up to now,” Streng said.
In fact, he said Baldwin is “looking forward to erasing this black cloud that has been following him.”
Streng said Baldwin has no criminal history. He said Baldwin talked to investigators, asking them if he could move and giving them his contact information before going to California.
Streng said he believes releasing Baldwin on his own recognizance would be “sufficient.”
O’Connor said he likes to restrict travel to the county or at least the state as a condition of bond. He expressed concern that he does not know where Baldwin would live in Ohio if released.
Baldwin offered to surrender his passport if that would help. Ultimately the lack of living arrangements dictated the bond, according to the judge.
“If the defendant can make definite arrangements to reside in the state, I will reconsider his request for a lower bond,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor asked Chase how long she believes the trial will last. She said her “conservative” guess would be two weeks, given the number of documents and witnesses. O’Connor said that by keeping Baldwin in jail, prosecutors would need to move quickly to preserve the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
Chase said the trial length could be reduced if she and Streng can reach some agreements and stipulations.
The trial has been set for the weeks of Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. If convicted on all counts, Baldwin could face more than 81 years in prison.
Baldwin was the Chief Humane Agent for the Union County Humane Society. He founded the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio (ACT Ohio), and co-founded the Ohioans Against Breed Discrimination, a Political Action Committee.
In California, Baldwin started Save Them Dog Training, which focused on reactive dogs with bite histories. He also helped found Underdog Alliance to advocate for dogs with severe behavioral problems.
Court documents allege Baldwin would tell people he was taking dogs in to rescue, train or adopt them. He would allegedly raise money for the care of the dog, but rather than help them he would often have them euthanized, according to court documents.
The indictments indicate Baldwin took funds from a variety of animal shelters, organizations and individuals throughout the state and nation.
The indictments also allege Baldwin lied on his resume to get his position in Union County and that he lied on court documents, saying he was bit by an aggressive dog.
Also included in the indictment is the allegation that he stole a handgun from an animal rescue task force.
Steffen Baldwin, the former chief humane agent for the Union County Humane Society, was arraigned Thursday stemming from a 42-count indictment released last week. The charges alleged Baldwin killed dogs and lied to their owners in an effort to get money from them. Above, Baldwin looks on as defense attorney Michael Streng addresses the court. (Journal-Tribune photo by Mac Cordell)
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