2 brothers guilty of federal money laundering charges in Texas
In a prominent case, jurors found two of the three Yassine brothers guilty of the federal white collar crime of money laundering in October 2012.The Yassine family is well known for its downtown Austin, Texas, network of nightclubs that included bars Pure, Fuel, Malaia, Treasure Island Bar, Kiss & Fly, Roial, Hyde and Spill, owned and operated through its business Yassine Enterprises. Allegedly, they used their commercial venture to launder money from illegal drug deals.
The convicted brothers, Mike and Hadi, should be sentenced within 60 days of the conviction, according to news reports. The federal penalty for money laundering is up to 10 years in prison, a fine up to $500,000 or both.
The bars have been closed by state authorities and the felony convictions will ensure that they are not able to get liquor licenses again for many years.
The third brother, Steve, was found not guilty of money laundering, but pleaded guilty a week later to a federal drug crime. He received a sentence of one year plus one day in prison, after which he will be deported to Ivory Coast where he has citizenship.
The investigation into the scheme, undertaken by a network of federal, state and local agencies, took an amazing six years and culminated in March 2012 with the arrest of 10 people. Reportedly the suspects were charged with federal firearms, drug, and money laundering crimes.
The main witness against the brothers was a cousin who was an FBI informant. According to kxan.com, he testified that “the bars were used to launder thousands of dollars in drug money.” Your News Now Austin reports that evidence also included a recording of one of the brothers arranging to “launder up to $1 million.” An IRS special agent with expertise in bank records testified about the elaborate network of financial transactions.
Money laundering is a white collar crime wherein proceeds of illegal activity are put into the legitimate stream of money to make it harder to trace their origin. Most news stories about money laundering currently deal with money from illegal drug activity or related to allegations of terrorism.
Federal authorities are focused on untangling money laundering schemes, and have recently stepped up enforcement against financial institutions, specifically on whether banks are complying with legal requirements that they have internal systems in place to detect laundered money.
In addition to being a federal crime, money laundering is also a felony under the Texas Penal Code. The degree of the felony increases with the amount of money involved. The most severe punishment under Texas state law for money laundering is for a felony of the first degree, punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison, plus a possible fine up to $10,000.
As the Yassine cases illustrate, punishment for money laundering can be severe. Anyone in Texas who is being investigated for or who has been charged with money laundering should consult with an experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to understand his or her legal rights and to mount a vigorous defense.