Trial Looms for Notorious Designer 

Michael Baker's future is looking grimmer by the day. A grand jury convened Dec. 11 to determine what charges the former Richmond interior designer and socialite will face at an upcoming trial.

Baker is accused of embezzling from Charleston Gas Light Co., where he worked as a salesman before going on the run in April 2005. Police caught up to him in Florida in mid-September.

Although grand jury proceedings are closed to the public, an employee of the Charleston County Solicitor's Office says it is likely that Baker's case on charges of embezzlement will go to trial, and the amount he is charged with embezzling is expected to grow exponentially.

"The evidence is pretty overwhelming," says Michaela Higinbotham, victim advocate for the County of Charleston's Solicitor's Office. Higinbotham says that the $57,000 Baker is accused of taking is actually closer to $300,000.

Police arrested Baker in September on a traffic offense in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where he was working as a salesman in a teak furniture shop.

Police were able to track him after his wife, Susan Baker, received notice of the traffic stop because the car he was driving was still registered to the Charleston address, a source close to the family says. Susan Baker, the source says, alerted authorities of the notice which pinpointed her husband's whereabouts. Michael Baker was then charged in Florida and extradited to Charleston. The Baker's marriage was annulled in a Richmond court earlier this year.

Baker left Richmond three years ago amid questionable business dealings. His customers at Plaid & Stripes on Libbie and Patterson avenues complained of being overcharged, or paying for items that never arrived. He lived openly as a gay man in Richmond for some 20 years until he married Susan Hawkins Reynolds in 1998.

According to sources, Baker was hot to make a plea deal in October, when the amount he was accused of embezzling was $57,000. Since, Baker's bosses at Charleston Gas Light Co. say they've documented further losses estimated at $298,000. Because the amount is significantly higher, sources say, a possible plea agreement seems unlikely.

Held on $100,000 bond, Baker languishes in Charleston County Jail where, Higinbotham says, conditions are no match for the lavish Richmond and Charleston homes Baker used to occupy. "It's overcrowded, and it smells of fecal matter," she says. S

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