But Baker left at the end of that school year amid rumors he was heading to rival Dixie State College to direct a ballroom dance program there. Months later, he was charged in an alleged scheme to sell more than 100 undervalued SUU dance costumes to a friend, then buy them back for use at Dixie.
Originally facing three counts of theft, Baker said in an interview that he believed all charges had been dropped following a preliminary hearing in November in 5th District Court. SUU officials, including campus Police Chief Rick Brown, who investigated the case, said the same.
However, court documents show, and court officials confirm, that an amended charge of communications fraud, a second-degree felony, is still pending. Baker, 33, was previously charged in 2007 in another missing-costumes case and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor theft charge, later reduced to an infraction.
Baker did not take the job at Dixie, moving instead to his home state of Oregon, where he now teaches at several dance studios. Dixie officials say they decided not to expand their ballroom program.
In testimony at the November hearing, Heather Sprouse, an adjunct dance instructor at both SUU and Dixie, said Baker called her in early 2010 to ask if she would buy the costumes from him in a university surplus sale, then sell them back to him once he was at Dixie. He had previously worked at her dance studio.
"It didn't seem right to me," Sprouse said. She suggested he try one of his other friends.
Apparently, he did. A college dean reported 137 ballroom dresses missing from an off-campus storage shed shortly after a team trip to Puerto Rico in May, according to Brown. He said he recovered them June 3 at the St. George home of a private dance instructor, Melanie Suman, who had paid $2,000 for them.
Andrea Johnson, a former ballroom dance director at SUU who has returned from the University of Nebraska to retake the reins of its program, testified that the costumes Baker allegedly sold to Suman are worth between $6,000 and $10,000, depending on how they are appraised.
Johnson said the surplus sale was unusual because many of the costumes were less than four years old. Dance costumes are often altered and reused and typically would not be sold until they are at least 10 years old and in poor condition, she said.
"Dance companies don't buy costumes then sell them right away," said costume seamstress Melanie Lathim, who testified on the costumes' value. "They get every cent out of them they can get."
More than 100 other items valued over $3,000 are still missing, including bow ties, cummerbunds and shirts, Johnson said. She said she watched videos of the ballroom dance team's performances from the past year to determine what was missing.
One of the theft charges against Baker pertained to missing keys to the storage shed and several buildings on campus. Judge John Walton ruled there was not enough evidence for that charge, or for a theft charge in connection with the missing costume pieces.
Baker said the case had nothing to do with him leaving SUU, noting he worked on year-to-year contracts. Court testimony indicates college officials told him as early as March that they would not renew his contract, though in interviews they declined to say why they sought new leadership for the program.
Baker also said he never had an agreement to go to Dixie.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to teach at SUU," he said. "Ultimately it was time for me to go somewhere else and do other things."
SUU spokeswoman Jen Burt called the case "old news."
"It was shady, but policy-wise it was upstanding," she said. "Legally, we don't have him on anything. We can't prove he took the costumes."
Indeed, SUU's director of purchasing, Pete Heilgeist, testified that he approved the surplus sale and breached university rules by failing to ask Baker for documentation of the $2,000 valuation.
"We should've gotten a list of inventory, an exact list of all the costumes that he intended to sell, prior to any transaction being made," Heilgeist said.
Baker was surprised to learn that the communications fraud charge, relating to the surplus sale, has not been dismissed.
"It was all dropped back in December," he said, declining to discuss details of the case. He expects to have his prior conviction expunged soon.
"It continues to haunt me. It's affecting my life to the point where I'm not able to get jobs," Baker said. "I really just want to put this whole thing behind me."
Shauna Mendini, who oversees the ballroom program as SUU's dean of performing and visual arts, downplayed Baker's role in building the program, saying its success had been "a collaborative process." Roughly 100 students perform in one of four ballroom ensembles at the school.
In an interview, Suman called the criminal case "ridiculous." She was charged with one count of theft, which was dismissed Nov. 17, the day of Baker's preliminary hearing.
"The program is going to suffer because he's not there," she said. "There was nothing truthful about any of the charges. It was a waste of everybody's time and money."
Iron County prosecutors and Baker's attorney did not respond to repeated requests for comment.