AUSTIN (KXAN) - U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks on Tuesday declined to set a bail for nightclub co-owner Mohammed Ali "Steve" Yassine, saying he was not convinced the suspect in last month's drug raid in Downtown Austin does not have the means to flee the country.
"This guy lived like a king," Sparks said during a hearing in federal court. "He lives in a great neighborhood. I live in the same neighborhood, so I should know."
Two defendants from the raid, Edgar Orsini and Nizar Hakiki, were also denied bail Tuesday.
It was the third time bail has been denied for Yassine. But Sparks said he would not rule eventually allowing Yassine to be freed if his lawyer can demonstrate that his lacks the assets needed to slip away from authorities.
Yassine's attorney Steve Orr has been trying to persuade the court to reconsider the decision not to allow his client to post bond to secure his freedom as he fights a range of drug and money-laundering charges.
Sparks pointed out that the last alleged incident in this case involving Steve Yassine happened in October 2008, but prosecutors said they needed extra time to complete their investigation.
"I have no way of knowing if he has the ability to flee," Sparks said. "I would need concrete evidence of his financial picture. Establish what he has, and convince me he won't flee."
"I'm going to have to do some more work on (the case)," said Orr after the hearing.
Federal officials are preparing their case against Yassine and two of his brothers and many of their associates. Among the group, Steve Yassine and his brother, Mike both face money laundering charges.
Much of Tuesday's hearing was spent discussing Steve Yassine's assets, which include at least two homes in high-end Austin neighborhoods, an expensive sports car and his business holdings.
Federal officials said Yassine had not paid taxes on the homes or on his energy drink company - Kowabunga - since at least 2002, and there could be future charges stemming from that matter.
Ryan Dorrington, a member of the Kowabunga sales team, described Yassine as "down to Earth, very honest," though he added that Yassine had not yet paid him money for his work with convenience stores and local bars. According to Dorrington, Yassine had instead given him items like a sliding glass door for a bathroom, as he began remodeling his home at one point.
During the hearing, federal officials also said an illegal alien - brother Mike's personal assistant - had been living with Steve Yassine, though police had been "looking for him for years" after a deportation order for false IDs. They said the Yassine family had initially bailed him out of jail.
Yassine also faces more serious charges of cocaine distribution and transferring a firearm to be used in a crime. Hadi Ali Yassine, the third Yassine brother, is also a money-laundering suspect, but the judge granted him a $25,000 bond.
Mike Yassine is also a "person of interest" in the unsolved homicide of his former business partner – Paresh Patel. Along with federal agents saying the Yassines have ties to the militant group Hezbollah and also the Texas Syndicate prison gang,
Investigators said in court last week that Mike Yassine told an informant he wanted to launder between $200,000 and $1 million in drug money through his clubs. They said evidence also includes videos of Steve Yassine and the informant setting up drug deals and gun purchases.
Authorities said Steve Yassine has not filed a tax return in four years, though his attorney has said he was led on by the informant.
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