Jury deliberations begin in downtown nightclub owners Yassine Enterprises trial

Tiffany Hinman and David Maly

Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the trial of former downtown nightclub owners Hadi Yassine, Hussein “Mike” Yassine and Mohammed “Steve” Yassine.

The three face money laundering charges that could carry a hefty jail sentence if they are found guilty. Their trial began Oct. 1 and is the result of a five-year FBI analysis of the dealings of Yassine Enterprises, a family-run company co-owned by the defendants. The company operated nine downtown nightclubs, which were seized by the federal government last spring. The government also seized the site of a future club earmarked by Yassine Enterprises in the west downtown area.

A fourth defendant originally charged along with the three Yassines, Marisse Ruales, did not stand trial with the three defendants. Her case is still pending, officials said.

The trial of the three defendants focused on testimony and evidence from their cousin, Mohammed “Mo” Yassine, an FBI informant during the investigation. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Mo Yassine was paid $340,000 throughout the investigation for his undercover work.

That money went toward covering moving expenses for Mo Yassine as he moved from Denver to Austin to better connect with his family. The money was also used to cover cost-of-living expenses, among other costs.

Both the prosecution and defense commented on Mo Yassine’s credibility because of his alleged history of illegal drug abuse and theft, and his drug use during the investigation that was determined by periodic drug tests.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer said Mo’s participation in the investigation was necessary for it to be successful.

“Mo was no angel,” Sofer said. “He committed crimes and was not an upstanding citizen. But could anyone else have gotten inside the Yassine family business? Sometimes it takes a crook to catch a crook.”

Sofer said the FBI asked Mo Yassine to perform various illegal actions because of his informant status, including money laundering and drug sales so his family would trust him with information on their illegal dealings.

Sofer described one instance where Mo Yassine gave Mike Yassine $100,000 to launder as part of his undercover role. Sofer said Mike Yassine’s willingness to break the law was obvious.

“Anyone else would have avoided this like the plague,” Sofer said. “It was quite the opposite for Mike. Instead, he wanted to make the money look legitimate and cover Mo’s tracks.”

Throughout the trial, hours of recordings and film strips that Mo Yassine collected while wearing wires during the investigation were played. The clips included multiple drug deals, incidents of money laundering and other illegal activity.

Lily Reznik, who served as a stenographer throughout the course of the trial, said she is unsure how long jury deliberations in this case will take because the jury has a lot of evidence it could review.

The nightclubs formerly run by Yassine Enterprises were Austin Bottle Service, Roial, Kiss and Fly, Malia, Fuel, Treasure Island, Qua, Spill and Pure.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, plans are in place to replace Spill with Bourbon Girl, a country bar; Kiss & Fly with 404, a dance club; and Fuel with Chicago House, a bar focusing on craft beers. The rest of the nightclubs remain vacant. 

Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: Yassine Enterprises trial continues