CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cuyahoga County prosecutors dismissed charges Monday against a Solon attorney who was accused of stealing from the bank account of a disabled Army veteran.
Gary Bakst, 59, was indicted earlier this month on charges of theft and tampering with evidence in connection with what prosecutors had said was the $1,218 theft from Kevin C. Hart, 54, in October. Bakst served as Hart's guardian since 2006, as Hart suffers from schizophrenia.
"This is exactly what we had said: Mr. Bakst did not steal any money from Mr. Hart,'' said defense attorney Andrea Whitaker.
The case is the second involving Bakst's work with veterans. In December, he pleaded guilty in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court 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 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. Judge Pamela Barker is expected to meet with lawyers and Bakst on Thursday for a hearing in that case.
On Monday, Matthew Meyer, an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor, dismissed the theft charges his office brought against Bakst. Meyer said an investigation into the theft allegations began when Hart's daughter, Alisha, gave multiple statements to authorities that Bakst had failed to reimburse her for the cost of buying her father a mattress for $1,218.
Meyer said that records indicate that Bakst withdrew that amount from Kevin Hart's bank account Oct. 6 by writing a check to cash. After a Probate Court judge removed Bakst from serving as Hart's guardian Oct. 17, Alisha Hart told the new guardian, Paul Silver, that Bakst had failed to reimburse her for buying her father's mattress, Meyer said.
The prosecutor said Silver then wrote Alisha Hart a cashier's check for the $1,218, which was drawn from Kevin Hart's bank account. Last week, Alisha Hart sent an email to prosecutors that she also had received a check for a similar amount from BCH Management Group, a business owned by Bakst.
Hart told prosecutors that she had confused the check with an insurance settlement for property damage to her home and had not realized that Bakst had sent it Sept. 19 as a reimbursement for the bedding because of "the lack of any identifying information on the check or communication from Bakst.''
Hart realized the mistake when she was preparing to file her taxes, Meyer said.
"Although it is unclear why Bakst would have chosen to give money to Ms. Hart from funds that he personally controlled (instead of directly from the guardianship account) or why he would have written a check to cash from the guardianship account to reimburse himself later, the evidence does not indicate that Bakst kept the money taken from Kevin Hart's account,'' Meyer said.
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Prosecutors dismiss charges against Solon attorney accused of stealing from military veteran