Gary Bakst, 59, was indicted this week in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court on charges of theft and tampering with evidence. He is accused of taking $1,218 from Kevin C. Hart, 54, in October. Bakst served as Hart's guardian since 2006. Hart suffers from schizophrenia, according to court records.
Bakst pleaded not guilty to the allegations Wednesday before Common Pleas Judge David Matia, who set the bond and ordered that Bakst surrender his passport. The case is the second involving Bakst's dealings with Hart.
Common Pleas Judge Pamela Barker is scheduled to sentence Bakst next week over the attorney's work with Hart and three other disabled military veterans. Bakst's attorneys, William and Andrea Whitaker, have asked to re-schedule that hearing, based on the new charge.
In the initial case, Bakst pleaded guilty in December to identity fraud and tampering with government records. He admitted to using another attorney's identity to bill for legal work in the cases of the veterans.
Prosecutors said Bakst did that to circumvent Cuyahoga County Probate Court rules that limited his ability to generate fees as both guardian and lawyer of the disabled veterans. He illegally billed $15,301 using the attorney's identity last April.
Based off evidence in that case, prosecutors pieced together a second indictment against Bakst. Authorities accused him of stealing from Hart's bank account Oct. 6, just as his attorneys were working out a negotiated plea deal in the initial case, said Matthew Meyer, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor.
Meyer said his office will push to stop the sentencing in the first case and seek to vacate the plea, a move that could bring a trial.
"Why should he get the benefit of a plea when there was a requirement that he stop stealing from people?'' Meyer asked.
Because of the timing of the theft allegation and Bakst's financial means, Meyer urged Matia to set a $100,000 bond.
"The only thing that he respects is money,'' Meyer told the judge.
Bakst's attorney, Andrea Whitaker, fought the request for the high bond. She told Matia that her client's "risk of flight is zero. He absolutely denies that he stole from this veteran.''
In each case, Bakst was appointed as the guardian by a judge in Probate Court. Prosecutors said the tampering charges in both cases stem from Bakst submitting fraudulent documents to Probate Court and Hart's family. Hart's daughter, Alisha, could not be reached for comment.
Records show Bakst first became Hart's guardian in 2006. By then, he already was the guardian for disabled veterans Debra Presley, Arthur Huffine and Brent Walker. The three, as well as Hart, were named in the original identity-fraud case.
The new charges against Bakst come days after Common Pleas Judge Timothy McCormick sentenced Rocky River attorney Timothy Purcell to 16 months in prison for fleecing $262,000 from the estate of a disabled veteran. Like Bakst, a Probate Court judge appointed Purcell to handle the case. Purcell initially served as the veteran's guardian and later as the administrator of the estate.
"You need to be held accountable for the money you stole,'' McCormick told Purcell. "There has to be some consequences.''
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Judge sets $50,000 bond in the case of a second lawyer accused of fleecing disabled veteran