Civil liberties groups, ABA weigh in on asset-freezing case

A handful of civil liberties groups and a legal organization have filed amicus briefs in Sila Luis v. United States of America, a Medicare fraud case that is scheduled for a hearing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court this fall.

The case revolves around the federal government's allegation that Luis, owner and operator of LTC Professional Consultants Inc. in South Florida, paid kickbacks to patient recruiters and submitted fraudulent Medicare claims totaling $45 million. After government prosecutors froze her assets, Luis filed a lawsuit claiming that not all her money was connected to alleged fraudulent payments. A federal appeals court previously ruled that the government has the right to freeze Luis' assets.

Last week, in preparation for the Supreme Court hearing, three organizations filed amicus briefs in support of Luis, arguing that the government overstepped its bounds by freezing assets that were not linked to the fraud charges, which violates the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. Two civil liberties groups, The Cato Institute and the DKT Liberty Project, submitted a joint brief that challenges "the legitimacy of freezing orders on an institutional level," The Cato Institute wrote in a blog post. The amicus brief also argues that the extraordinary actions taken by federal prosecutors limit Luis' "legal rights before any liability or wrongdoing has been proven."

Another civil liberties organization, The Rutherford Institute, filed a brief that argues federal prosecutors froze assets unrelated to Luis' alleged crime, violating her constitutional right to choose counsel. According to the brief, the forfeiture is "inconsistent with the Founding Fathers' understanding of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel."

Finally, an amicus brief filed by the American Bar Association (ABA) argues that the government's action violates both the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. The ABA was careful to point out that it has no position regarding the validity of the fraud claims, but argues that the government's overreach unfairly includes both "tainted" and "untainted" assets.

"This case represents a profound expansion of the government's pretrial exercise of control over a defendant's assets," the ABA wrote. "Unlike previous asset forfeiture cases this Court has considered, the pretrial restraining order in this case covers not only tainted assets, but also bars the use of lawfully obtained, untainted property to secure representation by counsel of choice."

Last year, FierceHealthPayer: Antifraud reported on individuals who were forced to forfeit expensive mansions, jewelry, luxury cars and real estate properties purchased with profits from multi-million dollar fraud schemes.   

For more:
- here is the amicus brief from The Cato Institute and the DKT Liberty Project
- read The Cato Institute's blog post
- read The Rutherford Institute's amicus brief
- see the ABA's amicus brief

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