A Berkeley man has been convicted on five counts of tax evasion and one count of theft of government property after a seven-day trial that concluded with a federal jury’s ruling Monday.
The ruling against psychologist Hugh Leslie Baras was described in a statement released Tuesday evening by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag and José M. Martinez, Internal Revenue Service criminal investigation special agent in charge.
In the indictment against him, authorities said Baras earned nearly $1.2 million in income from his private therapy practice in Palo Alto between 2005 and 2009, but declared less than $200,000 on his tax forms.
As a result, he paid $29,534 in taxes when he was responsible for $406,447. He also was convicted of collecting more than $80,000 in disability benefits that he should not have received, officials said.
According to evidence presented during the trial, before U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, Baras formerly worked as a psychologist at Kaiser Permanente, and was an adjunct clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. He started a solo private practice office in Palo Alto, Calif., in late 2002 where he served as a clinical psychotherapist to his clients.
“Although he filed timely federal income tax returns for each of these years, Baras omitted all of the income produced by his private practice from those returns,” according to the statement released Tuesday by the U.S. attorney’s office.
In addition, Baras collected Disability Insurance Benefits from the Social Security Administration, “although he was self-employed and earning substantial income.” From 2006 through 2009, Baras received benefits totaling just over $80,615, “to which he was not entitled.”
He was arraigned on the charges in September 2012, according to media reports.
The maximum penalty under the law for each count of tax evasion is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum statutory penalty for each count of theft of government property is 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Baras is scheduled to be sentenced May 22 at 2 p.m. before Judge Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland.
Michael G. Pitman was the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, which was the result of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation unit, and the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General.
Update, 12:30 p.m. San Francisco-based attorney Marc J. Zilversmit reached out to Berkeleyside on Wednesday morning to say his client plans to appeal the court ruling against him. Zilversmit said Baras, who is 70, developed “a serious painful illness” called Polymyalgia rheumatica — for which he was prescribed steroids, opiates, Marinol, amphetamines and anti-depressants — during the time he failed to pay most of the taxes he owed.
Zilversmit said Baras had followed the rules for the first 60 years of his life, but faltered during his illness.
“For the first 60 years of his life Dr. Baras had no problems with the law or with paying his taxes,” said Zilversmit via email. “Only when he fell victim to this illness and the effects of these medications did he make these mistakes with this taxes and Social Security, along with neglecting many other bills and obligations.
Zilversmit said Baras ultimately paid the IRS $603,487.59 in taxes and interest; paid the California Franchise Tax Board $160,703.03 to settle the state tax bills; and repaid the Social Security Administration $80,615.80.
The judge, however, according to Zilversmit, ruled that this evidence was irrelevant and excluded it from trial.
“We are disappointed by the judge’s rulings and the jury’s verdict and we intend to appeal the convictions,” the attorney said.
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