Updated 3:15 p.m.
A federal judge in Washington has blocked a defendant from using frozen or retained assets to pay for $100,000 in attorney fees, according to an opinion issued Thursday.
Judge James Boasberg with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a motion from the defendant, home health care provider Speqtrum Inc., to gain access to almost $4.5 million in withheld or frozen assets. Speqtrum is represented by Rita Ndirika of Lanham, Md.-based Grant Law Office.
In December 2010, the U.S. attorney’s office filed a complaint that alleged Speqtrum “knowingly submitted fraudulent claims for services not rendered or services not authorized to render to the District of Columbia’s Medicaid Program” totaling about $1.8 million.
The court froze $1.8 million in payments and the D.C. Health Care Finance Department withheld an additional $2.7 million. In his opinion, Boasberg wrote that the release of assets for the purpose of paying attorney fees was not a violation of the Sixth Amendment. He likened it to a bank robber using stolen money to pay for the best defense possible.
“My client is no ‘bank robber’ and the $4.5 million monies being withheld from Speqtrum at this time are legitimate Medicaid revenues earned after the so called ‘alleged fraud’ cited in the government's complaint,” Ndirika wrote in an email. “The only ‘bank robber’ or ‘fraudster’ are the program administrators, over the years, of the D.C. Medicaid Program.”
Boasberg wrote that the defendant has to prove their financial inability to fund a defense. “Defendant has submitted no financial records or otherwise demonstrated an inability to pay its counsel. Absent such, even if the Court were inclined to release funds, it would have no basis to do so.”
In a telephone interview, Ndirika said that both parties are involved in settlement negotiations and indicated that she plans to file a motion for reconsideration next week. Ndirika said that there were other attorneys involved in the case who have subsequently dropped out because the defendant is unable to pay attorney fees. She described Boasberg as a reasonable and fair judge and said she is confident that he will release the money.
“By keeping the attorneys fees from the attorney the defendants can’t represent themselves and you win by default,” Ndirika said in an interview. “I’m sure that once I correct the record next week, Judge Boasberg will release the attorney fees.”