Yassine Money Laundering Trial Set For Oct. 1

Judge denies bond as co-defendant skips bail

Judge Sam Sparks
Judge Sam Sparks

With one of their co-defendants skipping bail, it may not have been the best day for Mike and Steve Yassine to ask to be let out on bond. However, there was one piece of bright news for the pair: At least they now have a trial date, with jury selection set for Oct. 1.

That's just for the money laundering case: The drug distribution part of the case against Steve and six other associates will have to wait until after this first trial is complete.

Club owner Hussein Ali Yassine (better known as Mike), his brothers Mohammed Ali (Steve) and Hadi Ali, and Mike's executive assistant Marisse Marthe Ruales were back in court today, appearing before Judge Sam Sparks for a status update on their money laundering trial. The first topic of discussion was the date of the trial. Coming in, everyone was aiming for a June 1 start date, but Sparks was concerned that was an impossible target.

The issue is the discovery process: The federal prosecutors have a large amount of material – audio and video, transcripts, intercepted text messages – and that is taking a long time to process. The big sticking point is the transcripts: Since many of the conversations were in Arabic or French, the Feds only have preliminary transcripts available, and were not prepared to hand them over unless they got some promise that these rough drafts would not be used against them in the trial. If the defense attorneys were OK with using the transcripts purely for prep work, and only refer to the finalized versions in court, then they could move forward.

But that still leaves another major problem: How to give everyone enough time to look at all the documentation, and still fit it into everyone's existing schedule?

That's a tough one, and it starts with Sparks' calendar. Actually, it starts with the insane filibustering of judicial nominees by Congressional Republicans: Currently six of Texas' 52 judicial seats are empty, including one in the Western District that has been empty (according to the American Constitution Society) since Nov. 30, 2008. This has left every remaining judges hugely overstretched. Sparks' dance card is booked up already for months ahead, but if it was going to be a speedy trial the he could set aside June 1-5. After that he has a three week trial that the Feds had booked six months ago, so could everyone be ready by then to get through everything in a week?

Well, that was not going to work. Assistant US Attorney Gregg Sofer said he would need less than a week to lay out his case, and just giving the defense teams equal time made this a two-week trial. Plus the defense attorneys still need to work through all the evidence, and it seems unlikely that the Feds can get them the finalized transcripts in less than 10 days. "The truth of the matter," Sparks said, "is that you don't know if you're going to be ready or not."

The next option was August 6, but that was not going to fly either: Now it's the defense attorneys that had scheduling issues. The only remaining option was Oct. 1.

This also leaves the defendants in jail for another six months – something Sparks did not seem too happy about. However, he seemed in no mood to issue bond orders for either Mike or Steve. Both have made multiple requests to Sparks to overturn the detention orders issued by visiting magistrate Judge Dennis Green in March. It cannot have helped matters that Sparks had already issued an arrest warrant for Karim Faiq, one of Steve's co-defendants in the related coke dealing case. Green had released Faiq on $25,000 bail, but he had broken the terms of his bail and was supposed to be present this afternoon at court. Sparks asked Faiq's lawyer Ben Florey if he had seen his candidate: Not today, no, he replied. "You'll see him soon enough," replied Sparks.

Steve and Mike's appeal for release was complicated, but sort of ingenious. Mike's lawyer David Botsford argued that, since the Feds and the state had frozen all of his client's assets, and seized his green card and passport, there was no way he could flee even if he wanted to. Stephen Orr, representing Steve, piggy-backed off of that: The court records showed that Mike was basically subsidizing Steve's lifestyle with $9,000 a month in cash. Since the Feds had all of Mike's money, and without it Steve was knee-deep in debt, how could he go anywhere either?

Sparks was unimpressed. "We're jumping over an antique fence here," he told the lawyers. Green was not concerned about the pair's seized US assets, he added, but about the unknown amounts of money that had been transferred to their families overseas. Request denied, and back on Oct. 1.

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Yassine Enterprises, Sixth Street, Mike Yassine, Steve Yassine, Judge Sam Sparks, Karim Faiq

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