Judge angry, jury home early in day two of Yassine trial




Posted on October 2, 2012 at 4:54 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 2 at 4:54 PM

AUSTIN -- Tuesday proved to be another wild day in federal court during the Yassine trial. The judge announced he was angry at the lawyers and sent the jury home early, all while the state's key witness was on the stand.

Three brothers are accused of money laundering out of their downtown nightclubs. Mike, Steve and Hadi Yassine are on trial at the same time.

Hadi Yassine, also known as "Alex," found out his wife gave birth to their child. He is the only brother who has been out of jail on bond. The other two remain in federal custody.

Tuesday, Juror Number 1 asked Judge Sam Sparks if she could be excused from the panel. The juror complained of medical issues and said she learned information about the Yassine case, and she could no longer make a fair and impartial decision about guilt or innocence.

The 12-member panel is down to 11 with three alternates.

The first witness took the stand Monday. FBI Agent Donald Holstead testified about his involvement with the Yassines. He said the FBI paid a confidential informant to infiltrate the Yassine Enterprises organization. The informant was the cousin of the Yassine brothers, named "Mo." According to testimony, the government paid Mo at least $330,000 and his family $111,000.

Prosecutors called two more witnesses Tuesday, including a linguist and Mo, the informant.

Mo is considered the state's key witness. Mo wore a wire and camera and recorded several conversations with the Yassine brothers on various locations over a span of at least three years. According to testimony, Mo used to work for Mike Yassine but stole money from his safe inside a night club. Mike Yassine reported the theft to the Austin Police Department. Mo stopped associating with the family but was approached by the FBI to become a paid, confidential source.

"The goal was to find out how far the Yassine brothers would go. We wanted to figure out what they were capable of," said Asst. U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer.

Defense attorneys argue that the recordings Mo made are in several different languages and hard to hear. According to court records, they plan to make more than 60 objections to audio and video recordings.

Judge Sparks became angry and told the lawyers they would stay until 2 a.m. fixing the problems while the jury was sent home early.

Prosecutors plan to call 25 witnesses.

Judge Sparks expects the trial to last all week.