Mystery and Intrigue Grow in Yassine Case

Federal case against Downtown club owners takes another turn

Contrary to rumors, H-E-B says the body of Paresh Patel is not buried under its store in Buda.
Contrary to rumors, H-E-B says the body of Paresh Patel is not buried under its store in Buda.

The federal money-laundering and coke-dealing case against the Downtown club operators the Yassine family and their employees started off scandalous. Now it has taken a turn for the baroque, as new allegations add unsolved disappearances, witness tampering, and even international terrorism to the tale.

Ten people were arrested March 22 in a series of FBI raids (see "Downtown Bar Owners Face Federal Drug Charges," March 30), and on March 28 they appeared before visiting magistrate Judge Dennis Green in U.S. District Court in Austin. During the two-day detention hearing, federal attorneys started to lay out the government's case: They allege that Mohammed Ali Yassine (who also went by Steve Aus­tin) introduced a government informant to Nizar "Nino" Hakiki, who then sold a kilo of cocaine and two guns to the informant. The feds say that Steve's brother Hussein "Mike" Ali Yassine and his executive assistant Marisse Marthe Ruales then agreed to use the multiple bars run by Yassine Enterprises – including Treasure Island, Kiss & Fly, and Hyde – to launder the money, and then gave some of that money to Mike's youngest brother, Hadi Ali Yassine, to found his firm, Famous Vodka. The rest of the defendants are charged with a variety of related drug charges.

Lawyers for the defendants also had a chance to lay out the first hints of their defense, with much questioning about the age and severity of the charges (the allegations all date to between late 2007 and early 2009.) Statements by attorney Steve Orr, who is representing Steve Yassine, implied that he may attempt an entrapment defense.

However, the coke and cash charges may only be the beginning of the Yassines' court woes. Government attorneys also told Green that the IRS is examining the finances of both the company and the Yassines themselves for possible fraud and tax evasion. A passing reference by government attorneys that the Yassines' father claimed his brother-in-law is a member of Hezbollah has sparked furious speculation about possible terrorist ties. Moreover, both Ruales and Mike Yassine are being investigated by Round Rock Police for possible witness tampering: The feds said the pair offered money to the wife of Romel Gomez to drop charges against her husband.

More dramatically, government attorneys also told Green that Mike Yassine was being investigated in connection to an unsolved suspected murder. APD's Homicide Cold Case Unit issued a statement confirming that they were treating Mike Yassine as a "person of interest" in the disappearance of his business partner Paresh Patel over a decade ago. Patel was last seen leaving the now-defunct club Azucar on Lavaca (see "Dancing About Architecture," Oct. 6, 2000), and police suspect foul play. The furor and speculation has reached such a fever pitch that grocery chain H-E-B has had to issue public statements denying that Patel is buried under its store in Buda.

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Richard Whittaker, May 18, 2012

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Yassine Enterprises, Steve Yassine, Mike Yassine, Downtown bars

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