updated 8/20/2009 1:38:05 PM ET 2009-08-20T17:38:05

The federal government wrongly froze the assets of an Ohio-based charity it suspected of having ties to the militant Islamic group Hamas because it acted without giving the organization any warning, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge James Carr said Tuesday the government has an obligation to tell an organization why it is freezing its assets and to give it a chance to respond.

Attorneys for KindHearts for Charitable Humanitarian Development sued the government after it refused to say why the charity was essentially shut down three years ago.

The U.S. Treasury Department in 2006 ordered U.S. banks to freeze the Toledo charity's assets, saying it was funneling money to a terrorist organization. KindHearts officials have denied being connected to any terrorist group.

The judge said the treasury department wrongly froze KindHearts' assets because it failed to first get a probable cause warrant.

"The ruling provides a much-needed judicial check on executive power," Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said Wednesday. The ACLU is representing KindHearts in the case.

A Treasury department spokeswoman said the department would not comment on pending litigation.

"Treasury will continue to employ all authorities at our disposal to track and disrupt the deadly flow of money to terrorist groups," spokeswoman Natalie Wyeth said.

Denies links with Hamas
KindHearts officials have denied being connected to any terrorist group ever since federal agents padlocked the charity's office in 2006. Treasury department officials said KindHearts was connected with the Hamas-affiliated Holy Land Foundation and the al-Qaida-affiliated Global Relief Foundation.

The charity was shut down two days before three men from Toledo were accused of plotting to kill American and allied soldiers overseas.

Documents seized by federal agents suggested that two of the three Muslim men, who were later convicted, may have had ties to KindHearts. Federal officials, though, said the investigations were not connected.

KindHearts leaders have said it is a nonprofit charitable organization administering humanitarian aid to the world's poor. It estimated the group provided $5 million to $6 million annually in charity assistance.

The government said KindHearts officials coordinated with Hamas leaders and made contributions to Hamas-affiliated organizations. The United States considers Hamas a terrorist group.

U.S. Justice Department attorney Jonathan Zimmerman said during a hearing in May that the government does not need to show probable cause or seek a warrant to freeze assets, especially in cases when the assets are spread worldwide.

"We are dealing with money exported overseas," Zimmerman said.

He also said that even though KindHearts' funds were frozen, they did remain in the charity's name and in the same accounts.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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