Berkeley psychologist sentenced to jail time for tax evasion

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A 70-year-old Berkeley psychologist was sentenced Thursday to serve prison time and pay restitution after failing to report more than $1 million in income from his psychotherapy practice to the Internal Revenue Service, authorities said.

Hugh Leslie Baras was sentenced by a United States District Court judge in Oakland to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $593,513 to the IRS and to the Social Security Administration, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In February, Baras was convicted of five counts of tax evasion and one count of theft of government property.

Between 2005 and 2009, Baras ran a clinical psychotherapy practice in Palo Alto that generated more than $1 million in income. According to the press release, during these years Baras filed his federal income taxes on time but did not report the income he earned in his private practice.

Between 2006 and 2009, Baras collected $80,615 in disability insurance payments that he did not qualify for and sold almost $600,000 worth of gold and silver coins to a coin broker in Oakland, which he did not report on his tax returns, according to the release.

He was ordered to forfeit the $80,615 and to also pay a $7,500 fine. In addition, he must serve three years of supervised release.

San Francisco-based attorney Marc Zilversmit, who is representing Baras, said Baras did not properly report his income on his tax returns because of the medication he took for polymyalgia rheumatica, an inflammatory disorder that causes muscle pain and stiffness.

According to Zilversmit, Baras was taking an array of “potent psychoactive medications” to help him with his condition, including steroids, opiates, marijuana, antidepressants and stimulants.

“These medications had profound effects on his cognitive ability and behavior and judgement,” Zilversmit said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Pitman, who prosecuted Baras, declined to comment on the case.

Zilversmit said while Baras was taking medication, Baras became a hoarder and neglected his financial responsibilities, including the accounting for his private practice.

Zilversmit said Baras did not keep track of the finances in his private practice because he “developed an irrational fear of being impoverished and destitute.” This is common among people with depression, according to Zilversmit, which he said Baras developed due to the effects of his medication.

“The fact that they prosecuted a sick and elderly man for behavior that happened at the time he was taking medications for a debilitating illness is outrageous,” Zilversmit said.

Baras has been ordered to surrender to serve his sentence on Sept. 29. Zilversmit said he will appeal Baras’ sentence and request that Baras does not serve his sentence during the appeals process.

Contact Sophie Mattson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @MattsonSophie.