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Federal agents used Yassine cousin in money laundering case

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A jury was selected in just a few hours Monday in the federal trial for the three Yassine brothers. Mike, Hadi and Steve Yassine are accused of orchestrating a money-laundering ring in Austin’s entertainment district.

"The goal was to get somebody, someone to penetrate the Yassines," U.S. Assistant Attorney Greg Sofer told the jury in opening statements on Monday.

The three brothers are being tried together on money laundering charges in the U.S Western District Court. Steve Yassine faces cocaine trafficking and weapons charges. He will face trial separately at a later date.

In court, prosecutors told the jury, FBI agents approached Mohamad "Mo" Yassine, a known drug dealer, to work as a paid informant.

Sofer told the court Mo Yassine was first approached by agents in July 2006 while the Yassine cousin was living in Colorado.

"And he is far from perfect," Sofer said "Far from living an exemplary life."

Prosecutors said Mo worked for Yassine Enterprise Inc. but was fired after the cousin was caught stealing more than $8,200 in cash and liquor from the company. Greg Sofer says the incident was reported to the Austin Police Department. Following the incident that created a family divide, Mo left Austin in December 2004.

Sofer told the attentive jurors Mo and Mike Yassine grew up together in the Ivory Coast of Africa.

Defense attorney Gerry Morris quickly argued, "Mo Yassine's sworn obligation to himself and that he was going to bring the entire family down." Morris is representing the youngest of the Yassine brothers, Hadi.

"Mo was very jealous for Mike's success," Mike Yassine's attorney David Botsford said in opening statements.

Each man has hired their own attorney for this trial.

Mike Yassine ran nine downtown clubs including Spill, Treasure Island, Fuel and Kiss and Fly. Agents with the IRS, FBI, DEA, DPS TABC and APD raided the businesses in March, they have remained closed since.

In June 2007, federals agents asked Mo Yassine to work undercover to infiltrate Yassine Enterprise. FBI Special Agent Donald Holstead made arrangements to move Mo back to Austin. Court testimony revealed Mo has been paid more than $340,000 since taking the assignment. Agent Holstead says he remains on government payrolls.

In January 2008, working at the direction and supervision of Agent Holstead, Mo was asked to make a kilogram purchase of cocaine. Holstead testified agents wanted to bolster Mo Yassine's "street cred," by making a few drug deals.

In one drug transaction Holstead said Steve Yassine helped orchestrate, Mo Yassine was given $17,000 from government agents for the cocaine transaction. The drug deal went down at a convenience store on Cameron Road and was captured on video tape by investigators.

Holstead testified Steve Yassine was paid $500 for setting up the transaction. Another suspect was paid $100 as lookout during the drug and money trade.

Agent Holstead said a few of these closely monitored transactions took place to further establish their informant as an established, "criminal."

The first money laundering transaction between Mike Yassine and his informant cousin Mo, happened in mid-September 2008. The first check was signed by Yassine Enterprise boss, Mike Yassine.

Agents say they will be able to prove Mike Yassine knew the money Mo Yassine brought into his office was drug profits. A second check from October 2008 also was shown to the jury. That check had Mike Yassine's signature as well. In the memo portion on both checks, Mike wrote the purpose as "salary deposit." Agents said Mike Yassine made the checks appear Mo Yassine was an employee for the company.

Steve and Mike Yassine are still in federal custody. Hadi Yassine is free on a $25,000 bond.

Mo Yassine remains a paid informant, costing taxpayers $4,000 a month for his services.

Testimony continues Tuesday.

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