PORTLAND (AP) – The owner of a Saco accounting firm charged with mishandling more than $1 million of his clients’ money must wear an electronic monitor and stay in his home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. while free on bail.

Those were among the conditions imposed on John Baert during a hearing Monday in U.S. District Court.

Baert, the owner of Harmon-Baert Associates, waived his right to a preliminary hearing, but his attorney and federal prosecutor Toby Dilworth agreed to terms of his bail conditions. Baert has put up $50,000 bond that is secured by a house in Florida owned by his daughter and son-in-law.

Baert’s firm handled payroll processing and accounting for about 400 businesses for 20 years until it abruptly closed last month. The Internal Revenue Service says it’s aware of $1.1 million in taxes that are missing or unpaid, leaving Baert’s clients liable for back taxes.

He is charged with three counts of mail fraud, and additional charges are possible when he is formally indicted in the next few weeks.

Following Monday’s hearing, Dilworth said the case is being investigated by the IRS, postal inspectors and Saco police, and will go to trial within 70 days.

“People are working feverishly on this,” he said.

In court, Baert told federal Magistrate Judge David Cohen that he and his attorney, Martin Ridge, have discussed the charges in detail. He declined comment following the hearing.

Baert is charged with mail fraud for allegedly using the mail system in a scheme to defraud his customers of their money. Baert allegedly asked the IRS to send correspondence about his clients to him, so his customers didn’t know they were delinquent on taxes that Baert never paid.

The IRS has informed some of Baert’s clients that tax returns for their businesses have not been paid on their behalf since 2000.

Each count 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.

AP-ES-12-08-03 1149EST


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