PORTLAND (AP) – The owner of a Saco accounting and payroll firm that’s under investigation for mismanagement of its clients’ money has been arrested in Florida, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

John Baert, owner of Harmon-Baert Associates, was arrested by U.S. Postal Service inspectors and Internal Revenue Service agents Thursday morning at a relative’s home in Parrish, Fla., said Toby Dilworth of the U.S. attorneys office.

Baert was charged with three criminal counts of mail fraud, Dilworth said. Baert was scheduled to make his first court appearance Thursday afternoon in Tampa. Dilworth said charges against Baert could be elevated if he is indicted.

Harmon-Baert Associates did payroll processing and accounting, including paying taxes, for about 400 businesses for 20 years until it abruptly closed Nov. 20. Federal agents raided the business and Baert’s home Nov. 25 and confiscated files and documents from both.

An affidavit submitted Monday at U.S. District Court in Portland by IRS Special Agent Rodney Giguere said the agency knows of at least $1.1 million in tax payments that are missing or unpaid.

U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby was expected to release additional details about the case Thursday afternoon.

Each charge against Baert carries a maximum prison term of 20 years and a $250,000 penalty. Baert could also be ordered to repay his alleged victims.

The Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce will host a meeting for Harmon-Baert clients Monday evening in Saco. Representatives of the agencies investigating Baert have also been invited.

Still unknown is to what extent the IRS will demand repayment of taxes owed by Baert’s clients.

AP-ES-12-04-03 1400EST

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