Federal agents padlocked a Toledo-based Muslim charity and froze its assets yesterday, citing a government investigation into possible links with Hamas terrorists.
KindHearts, a $5 million-a-year charity with headquarters in West Toledo and branches in Lebanon, Pakistan, and the Gaza Strip, will not be able to access any of its funds or property while the investigation is under way.
Molly Millerwise, a spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington, said last night that she could not estimate how long the investigation will take.
"All property and interests in property of KindHearts for Charitable, Humanitarian Development, Inc., including its U.S. representative office and all other offices worldwide, are blocked pending investigation into whether KindHearts ... is being controlled by, acting for, on behalf of, assisting in, or providing financial, or material support to, and/or otherwise being associated with Hamas," the U.S. Treasury Department said in a notice posted on the charity's ornate glass doors.
Hamas, whose political branch was victorious in legislative elections in the Palestinian territories last month, is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.
Jihad Smaili, a member of KindHearts' board of directors and a Cleveland lawyer, said officials were not informed of the pending investigation until the government locked them out yesterday.
"KindHearts is surprised and disappointed by the actions of the U.S. government today," Mr. Smaili said last night from California, where he was on business. "We will cooperate fully. We have nothing to hide and we have always said that. Our books have always been open."
The government claims KindHearts officials have coordinated with Hamas leaders and made contributions to Hamas-affiliated organizations.
"KindHearts is the progeny of Holy Land Foundation and Global Relief Foundation, which attempted to mask their support for terrorism behind the facade of charitable giving," Stuart Levey, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement.
For Mr. Smaili, the moves yesterday were particularly shocking because a Senate panel last year ended its two-year investigation of possible terrorist links without making any allegations of wrongdoing against KindHearts.
Mr. Smaili said KindHearts cannot defend itself against the charges unless the federal officials make the allegations known. "We just hope the government will not hide behind the faade of its own laws, which give it the right to deem certain evidence secret and not even share it with us," said Mr. Smaili, a Toledo native.
KindHearts was founded in 2002 after the federal government shut down three of the largest U.S. Muslim charities in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Islamic law requires Muslims to donate to charity, and once KindHearts was granted approval by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 charitable organization, it quickly became one of the largest charities for Muslims from around the country.
The nonprofit agency raised $2.9 million in 2002, $3.9 million in 2003, and $5 million in 2004. It was planning to open another branch office in Indonesia.
KindHearts does not send money overseas but provides clothing, food, school supplies, and other aid for the poor that is distributed by workers at its overseas offices, Mr. Smaili said in a December interview with The Blade.
"We know, since we opened, that this was going to be a very challenging task, to maintain helping people who need it the most, especially after the government closed down the three other charities," Mr. Smaili said yesterday.
"We wanted to do everything legally, and we have done everything legally. But ultimately the government will do what it wants to do."
In December, Mr. Smaili said KindHearts officials "are not naive" and expected and welcome added scrutiny of its programs and activities. "We understand the current political climate in this country and the need for our government to protect us from groups which advocate violence. All we are asking for is a fair shake."
The third-floor premises of KindHearts in the Westgate Building were quiet yesterday.
The glass doors, decorated with an artistic green heart and gold-colored palms, were padlocked. A three-page letter and "blocking notice" from the Treasury Department were posted on them.
Two men wearing dark trenchcoats circled around the hallway outside the charity's offices but would not identify themselves to a reporter.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, had requested a review of 25 nonprofit Muslim organizations in the United States, including KindHearts, then ended the investigation without making a public statement.
Khaled Smaili of Toledo - Jihad Smaili's older brother and president of KindHearts - had worked for Global Relief Foundation, a nonprofit organization that was closed by the U.S. government after Sept. 11.
But Jihad Smaili said his brother was "a low-level employee" with no policymaking authority and joined the GRF to help underprivileged people.
"The immediate effect of the government's action is going to be felt by thousands of needy people around the world that receive support from KindHearts," Mr. Smaili said.
The government's statement posted on KindHearts' doors cited "Executive Order No. 13224, issued by the president on September 23, 2001" and said it was taking the action under authority "granted by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act."
Blade staff writer Karamagi Rujumba contributed to this report.
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.