Friday, December 19, 2014

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Testimony strengthens government's case against Yassine brothers

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Government informant Moe Yassine was excused from the witness stand just after lunchtime Friday, following three days of testimony in the federal money laundering trial of the Yassine brothers, Mike, Hadi and Steve.

The Yassines are accused of laundering money through several downtown Austin nightclubs including Pure, Treasure Island, Fuel and Spill. Yassine Enterprises had been the target of a federal investigation since 2007. Much of the evidence gathered was credited to the undercover work of Moe Yassine, a cousin to the trio.

During court proceedings, audio recordings and testimony revealed that Moe set up four separate money laundering deals. He also purchased cocaine with the help of Steve Yassine - a three-fourths kilogram deal that has the eldest Yassine brother facing drug trafficking charges at a later date.

The federal government paid Moe Yassine and his family a total of $344,000. Moe was paid $233,000 directly, the remainder was paid to his wife Cynthia, his father and sister.

Here are other details the court heard in three days of testimony from the 37-year-old criminal-turned-informant:

-Mike Yassine accepted at least $200,000 in cash, turning it into Yassine Enterprises business checks.

-On tape, Mike Yassine can be heard making arrangements to launder up to $1 million. The conversation was recorded inside his 31st floor penthouse suite at the Hilton Hotel downtown.

-Hadi Yassine is present during at least one of the money laundering deals.

-At Mike Yassine's instruction, Yassine Enterprises office manager, Madi Rualles, cut the money laundering checks in question. She can be seen on video filling out the checks.

Toward the end of Friday's proceedings, the embedded financial relationship between Mike and Hadi Yassine was shown to the jury via evidence presented by IRS Special Agent James Neff. Neff is a bank records and tax expert who examined the Yassine brother's financial activity for several years, including a slew of bank accounts linked to their downtown clubs.

E-mails were presented from 2009 between Hadi and Mike regarding Hadi's start-up venture, Famous Vodka. On separate occasions, Hadi asked his oldest brother for money, with the total amount reaching $200,000. In one email, Mike became frustrated with Hadi for his persistence in asking for funds for his business.

In another message, Mike tells Florida club owner and friend, John Webb, that he has enough money to lend Webb the more than $80,000 he needed to help his Palm Beach bars, and still have money left to help Hadi with his business. Mike wrote to Webb that March had been a "good month," and he was helping Hadi start something "of his own." Downtown Austin bars traditionally see a spike in alcohol sales around SXSW, the Texas Relays and other spring events.

In cross examination, defense attorney David Botsford addressed the e-mail, asking Neff, "He was being a nice big brother wasn't he?" To which Neff answered, "Yes, it's a lot of money."

Neff told the jury Famous Vodka was "100 percent" funded by Mike Yassine.

The federal agent also detailed what he called unique transactions within the brothers' personal bank accounts and Yassine Enterprises accounts. Large sums of money were often deposited quickly into the accounts to cover upcoming expenses.

"In general, the clubs were used interchangeably," he said. "If something needed to be paid, it could come out of any club. There was no structure."

Neff provided the example that expenses for a boat Hadi once owned were paid directly from the bank account titled to Fuel night club, previously located on East Sixth Street.

It was also revealed Friday that, during trial on Thursday, two people were excused from the courtroom after federal authorities thought they were attempting to intimidate the prosecution’s key witness, Moe Yassine.

A relative of Karim Fariq, who has been charged with cocaine distribution in the Yassine Enterprises scandal, was among the two excused. Fariq himself is believed to have fled the country.

An anonymous court official tells YNN that a cousin to Moe Yassine was the second person removed from the courthouse. The official says the two were intently staring at Moe on the witness stand, in what federal authorities believe was an attempt to intimidate him.

A third Yassine family supporter also was removed mid-afternoon on Friday.

Edgar Orsini, also charged with cocaine distribution in the Yassine bust, has since entered a plea agreement, but has not been sentenced.

The trial is set to resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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