Yassine Enterprises

Chad Womack, one of the owners of Bourbon Girl, prepares to open the bar on 6th Street Thursday afternoon. The Bourbon Girl opened Wednesday after waiting months for Yassine Enterprises’ TABC permit to be cancelled so they could obtain one of their own.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Several downtown Austin establishments were given new permits to sell alcohol after their previous tenants were evicted following a high-profile FBI raid and money laundering scandal last year.

The new permits from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which became effective Jan. 9, were given out to the establishments that took the places of bars owned by Yassine Enterprises. Hussein Ali “Mike” Yassine, Yassine Enterprises co-owner and permit holder, was convicted of money laundering in October 2012. 

The new establishments receiving permits from TABC are Bourbon Girl, 413 Bar, Chicago House and Castro’s Warehouse, according to a statement from TABC. These new bars will replace Spill, Treasure Island Pirate Bar, Fuel and Hyde, respectively, and are not affiliated with Yassine Enterprises.

Carmack Concepts, which owns Bourbon Girl in addition to bars including the Chuggin’ Monkey and the Dizzy Rooster, obtained the lease for Bourbon Girl in April 2012 but was forced to wait for Yassine’s permit to be canceled before receiving their own, Jason Carrier, owner of Carmack Concepts, said. Carrier said this delay significantly hampered the opening of their business.

“We could have opened in December,” Carrier said. “But we were at a complete standstill until we finally opened Wednesday night.”

Carrier said there should be new legislation regarding the number of TABC licenses that can be attached to a single address. Currently, only one license may be tied to each address, which can create administrative problems when original tenants have been evicted, Carrier said.

“The license becomes worthless if there’s not a valid lease attached to it,” Carrier said. “If a bar loses its lease, it should make the license null.”

Carolyn Beck, a TABC spokeswoman, said a temporary order was initially filed in March 2012 against eight of the bars owned by Yassine, prohibiting them from buying or selling alcohol on the premises until further action could be taken.

“In February or March, the FBI raided the Yassine locations, and that’s when it started,” Beck said. “It was March 22 when we filed the temporary order.”

Yassine also owned a restaurant, Stack Burger, which was placed under a similar order March 28, Beck stated in a statement. Additional suspensions were placed on the eight bars because of failure to pay taxes to the Office of the Comptroller, the statement read. 

Beck said once Yassine was found guilty of money laundering, it was easier for TABC to successfully have his permits removed.

“Yassine was convicted of crimes in court, so we used that felony conviction as evidence that he could no longer maintain control of those establishments,” Beck said. “By that time, he had already been evicted for nonpayment.”

Music junior Austin Ferguson said bars that closed, such as Kiss & Fly, will be greatly missed by patrons. Ferguson said the news of last year’s money laundering scandal was surprising.

“No matter what had gone on the day/week before, we could always go downtown to Kiss and just have fun without anybody caring our judging us,” Ferguson said. “I always knew the place was a little seedy — what downtown club isn’t? But the extent of what was going on during the day shocked me.”

Printed on Friday, January 18, 2013 as: Former Yassine bars receive permits 

Members of the Yassine family gasped in shock Friday as two of the three former Yassine downtown club owners on trial for money laundering were found guilty in federal court by a jury of their peers, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Hussein Ali “Mike” Yassine and Hadi Yassine, co-owners of Yassine Enterprises, were found guilty of money laundering charges that could carry a hefty jail sentence, according to court documents released Friday afternoon. Yassine Enterprises owned and operated nine downtown nightclubs until they were confiscated by the federal government this past spring, following a five-year federal investigation into the dealings of the company.

U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks is expected to issue a sentence within 60 days. The Statesman also reported that Ali “Steve” Yassine was found not guilty but is awaiting federal trial on drug charges. Marisse Ruales, a fourth defendant in the money laundering case, did not stand trial with the three defendants. Her case is still pending, officials said.

Six others were also charged this past spring in relation to the dealings of Yassine Enterprises.

The money laundering trial of the three Yassines began Oct. 1 with jury selection, opening arguments and testimony. The trial continued until this past Wednesday, when the jury began deliberations. 

Trial evidence centered on audio and video recordings collected by the defendants’ cousin Mohamad “Mo” Yassine, who was paid more than $340,000 – tax-free – by the federal government to serve as a confidential informant throughout the investigation. Both the prosecution and defense discussed Mo Yassine’s credibility throughout the trial because he has a history of drug use and illegal activity, according to the FBI. He was caught using illegal drugs during the course of the investigation through periodic drug tests mandated by the FBI as a condition of his compensation.

The nightclubs formerly run by Yassine Enterprises are Treasure Island Pirate Bar, Pure Ultra Lounge, Kiss & Fly, Stack Burger Bar, Malaia World Lounge, Roial, Hyde, Fuel and Spill.

According to an Oct. 8 article in the Austin American-Statesman, plans are in place to replace Spill with Bourbon Girl, a country bar; Kiss & Fly with 404, a dance club; and Fuel with Chicago House, a bar focusing on craft beers. The rest of the nightclubs’ locations remain vacant.

 

Printed on Monday, October 15, 2012 as: Yassine trial ends, jury finds two guilty

Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the trial of former downtown nightclub owners Hadi Yassine, Hussein “Mike” Yassine and Mohammed “Steve” Yassine.

The three face money laundering charges that could carry a hefty jail sentence if they are found guilty. Their trial began Oct. 1 and is the result of a five-year FBI analysis of the dealings of Yassine Enterprises, a family-run company co-owned by the defendants. The company operated nine downtown nightclubs, which were seized by the federal government last spring. The government also seized the site of a future club earmarked by Yassine Enterprises in the west downtown area.

A fourth defendant originally charged along with the three Yassines, Marisse Ruales, did not stand trial with the three defendants. Her case is still pending, officials said.

The trial of the three defendants focused on testimony and evidence from their cousin, Mohammed “Mo” Yassine, an FBI informant during the investigation. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Mo Yassine was paid $340,000 throughout the investigation for his undercover work.

That money went toward covering moving expenses for Mo Yassine as he moved from Denver to Austin to better connect with his family. The money was also used to cover cost-of-living expenses, among other costs.

Both the prosecution and defense commented on Mo Yassine’s credibility because of his alleged history of illegal drug abuse and theft, and his drug use during the investigation that was determined by periodic drug tests.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer said Mo’s participation in the investigation was necessary for it to be successful.

“Mo was no angel,” Sofer said. “He committed crimes and was not an upstanding citizen. But could anyone else have gotten inside the Yassine family business? Sometimes it takes a crook to catch a crook.”

Sofer said the FBI asked Mo Yassine to perform various illegal actions because of his informant status, including money laundering and drug sales so his family would trust him with information on their illegal dealings.

Sofer described one instance where Mo Yassine gave Mike Yassine $100,000 to launder as part of his undercover role. Sofer said Mike Yassine’s willingness to break the law was obvious.

“Anyone else would have avoided this like the plague,” Sofer said. “It was quite the opposite for Mike. Instead, he wanted to make the money look legitimate and cover Mo’s tracks.”

Throughout the trial, hours of recordings and film strips that Mo Yassine collected while wearing wires during the investigation were played. The clips included multiple drug deals, incidents of money laundering and other illegal activity.

Lily Reznik, who served as a stenographer throughout the course of the trial, said she is unsure how long jury deliberations in this case will take because the jury has a lot of evidence it could review.

The nightclubs formerly run by Yassine Enterprises were Austin Bottle Service, Roial, Kiss and Fly, Malia, Fuel, Treasure Island, Qua, Spill and Pure.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, plans are in place to replace Spill with Bourbon Girl, a country bar; Kiss & Fly with 404, a dance club; and Fuel with Chicago House, a bar focusing on craft beers. The rest of the nightclubs remain vacant. 

Printed on Thursday, October 11, 2012 as: Yassine Enterprises trial continues

The family of former UT soccer player Kylie Doniak is taking a stand against the individuals they feel are responsible for over-serving the drunk driver who hit Doniak back in February, turning her into what the lawsuit calls “a young child trapped in a 22-year-old’s body.”

Kylie’s parents, Lori and Dave Doniak, filed suit on Kylie’s behalf in Travis County Court earlier this month against the downtown nightclub Vice and its parent company, Ckan Inc., and the now-closed downtown nightclub Fuel and its former parent company Yassine Enterprises. Suzanne Kaplan, attorney for the Doniak family, said the family hopes to recover funds to pay for the extensive medical care Kylie continues to need after the crash. The family is not suing drunk driver Nicolas Colunga at this time.

Kaplan said the lawsuit will send a message to other local bars about the dangers of over-serving customers. The suit alleges Colunga, 22, had between 15 and 20 beers the night he hit Kylie, most of which he drank within two hours of the accident at the nightclubs Vice and Fuel.

“They are hoping to get some financial assistance in covering what it is going to cost to care for Kylie,” she said. “Right now, she needs almost around-the-clock care. She is still living at home receiving extensive rehab, and she will still need continuing therapy for an indefinite amount of time.”

Yassine Enterprises became the subject of federal investigation involving illegal drug, weapon and money laundering activity in 2007, which resulted in the arrest of former company owner Mike Yassine and nine other individuals last spring. The Texas Comptroller’s office took possession of six Yassine Enterprises establishments downtown, including Fuel, in April.

The suit asks for unspecified damages and a trial by jury. It says Kylie “will never be the same” as a result of the accident.

According to the suit, Colunga arrived at Fuel Feb. 2 at approximately 11:30 p.m. after having already consumed several beers. He then proceeded to drink five to seven beers at Fuel during the next 30 to 45 minutes, showing “obvious signs of intoxication” while he was there. Next, Colunga continued on to Vice, arriving at approximately 12:15 a.m. There, he consumed four to five drinks before returning to Fuel where he was served several more beers.

The suit alleges that Fuel employees brought a bucket to Colunga’s table to watch him vomit and then allowed him to order more drinks. Colunga then got behind the wheel of his 2008 Chevy Impala and ran a red light while proceeding west on East Eighth Street at San Jacinto Boulevard. The Impala “slammed into Kylie” and hit two of her friends. Colunga then crashed his car and was restrained by a witness until police arrived.

Roger Wade, Travis County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said Colunga is currently in jail and awaiting trial on four separate felonies, including intoxicated assault and failure to stop and render aid, and a Class B Misdemeanor.

Jonathan Insley, co-owner of Old School Bar & Grill on Sixth Street, said he is shocked that Colunga was served so much alcohol and said that would never allow that to happen at his bar.

“We have a zero-tolerance for it, and it’s just crazy that this happened,” he said. “What is it worth, you know, for what? It is just not worth it. You just have to follow the law when it comes to that.”

Carolyn Beck, a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokesperson, said an investigation into both Vice and Fuel by the TABC had been suspended for lack of evidence but could be reopened if new evidence is presented in the lawsuit or discovered elsewhere.

Beck said if found in violation of TABC policy, those responsible for over-serving Colunga could lose their TABC permits, could be fined and face criminal charges with a penalty of jail time.

Printed on Thursday, August 30, 2012 as: Doniak's family sues nightclubs for over-serving

Said Faiq, the brother of Karim Faiq, leaves the United State District Courthouse after being given custody of Karim Wednesday afternoon. Karim is one of 10 defendants in the case accusing Yassine Enterprises of money laundering and illegal drug and firearm distribution.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

A development in the federal investigation that shut down eight Austin nightclubs will cause four defendants in the case to be kept in federal custody pending their trial.

Hussein Ali “Mike” Yassine, owner of Yassine Enterprises, and his brother Mohammed Ali “Steve” Yassine and Alejandro Melendrez were denied bail at a detainment hearing on Tuesday by a federal judge said Daryl Fields, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Yesterday, judge Dennis Green also detained Edgar Orsini and released Karim Faiq into the custody of his brother, Said Faiq. The other five defendants were released on bond Tuesday, although trial dates have not yet been set.

The 10 defendants are accused of several counts of money laundering and illegal drug and firearm distribution according to official arrest indictments. Yassine Enterprises manages and operates eight Austin night clubs (Treasure Island Pirate Bar, Pure Ultra Lounge, Kiss and Fly, Malaia World Lounge, Roial, Hyde, Fuel and Spill). All eight bars have been closed since last Thursday when FBI agents executed a search warrant of Treasure Island Bar at East Sixth and Neches Streets. Yassine Enterprises is also a part owner in Stacks Burger Bar, which is currently open, although alcohol is not currently being served there.

Drew Matthews, biology sophomore and employee of Yassine Enterprises, said he worked security for Treasure Island Bar until its recent closing.

“I actually enjoyed going to work,” Matthews said. “[The staff of Treasure Island] was really close and friendly with one another.”

Matthews said he chose to quit immediately after he heard about the federal investigation of Yassine Enterprises, but he knows fellow employees who were affected when the bars closed.

“They were paying their bills with that job,” Matthews said. “Management told us we were welcome to try and pick up shifts at other establishments. There were nine bars that were shut down with 20 to 50 employees at each, so I am sure that most establishments downtown have got to be overloaded with people looking for work right now.”

He also said he was surprised by how few students seemed to be upset about the disappearance of these nine venues.

“I wonder if it has something to do with Roundup,” Matthews said. “Maybe next weekend when students actually go downtown, they will start to realize that a lot of these popular establishments are missing.”

Matthews said he thinks the UT and Austin communities will rebound quickly, and he would be interested to see more college-friendly venues take the place of those that were shut down.

Julie Weaver, spokeswoman for the Downtown Austin Alliance, said that her organization could not comment on the situation because the investigation was still in its early stages.

“Without knowing what the legal process holds, we can’t predict the impact this may have on downtown,” Weaver said.

Printed on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as: Defendants denied bail in nightclub case

A court hearing on Tuesday will determine whether 10 defendants connected with Yassine Enterprises and charged with various counts of money laundering and illegal drug distributiond will be kept in federal custody before their trial.

Yassine Enterprises operates nine venues (Treasure Island Pirate Bar, Pure Ultra Lounge, Kiss & Fly, Stack Burger Bar, Malaia World Lounge, Roial, Hyde, Fuel and Spill) and is being investigated by the FBI, the IRS, the Drug Enforcement Administration, The Texas Comptroller’s Office, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Austin Police Department.

Among the detainees is 40 year-old company owner and president Hussein Ali Yassine.

“A detention hearing is a pre-trial court proceeding whereby [U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Green] will decide whether a bond will be set for a defendant pending trial or whether the defendant will remain in custody pending trial,” Daryl Fields said, spokesman for the U.S Attorney’s Office. “The Government, by filing motions to detain, is seeking the pretrial detention of the 10 defendants charged in this case.”

He said evidence and testimony will be presented tomorrow to assist the judge in determining whether the defendants are dangerous or likely to attempt flight.

“If the judge finds, based on the evidence presented, that the defendant poses a threat to the community or is a risk to flee jurisdiction prior to trial, the judge typically will remand the defendant to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service pending trial,” Fields said. “If not, then the Judge will typically set bond and conditions for release for the defendant.”

Fields said the Government has filed separate motions to detain for all 10 defendants.

Allie Murphy, public relations junior and officer of the UT student chapter of the United Nations Children’s Fund, said she and other UNICEF officers have had to find a new venue for a fundraising event scheduled to take place on Thursday at Treasure Island.

“After we found out about the federal investigation everybody was freaking out,” Murphy said. “Our president was frantic. We knew that we did not want in any way to be associated with [Yassine Enterprises]. We knew that we did not want any people attending our event to spend money there.”

Murphy said in the past the UT chapter of UNICEF has held the fundraiser at other bars owned by Yassine Enterprises, including Spill and Roial.

Biology senior Tyler Myers said he has also been affected by the closing of these nightclubs.

“I love Kiss & Fly,” Myers said. “I used to go there a lot. I did not really like Pure, but I know that Treasure Island had really cheap drinks sometimes.”

However, Myers said the venues made him feel uncomfortable at times and he had heard alarming stories in the past of activities that happened at the nightclubs.

“Treasure Island had a really sketchy feel to it,” Myers said. “I also used to know someone in a management position at Kiss & Fly and I heard some stories about managers letting minors drink and other things.”

Printed on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 as: Yassine Enterprises facing multiple charges

A man is under investigation for stealing approximately 100 credit and debit cards, bottles of alcohol, DJ audio equipment and cash from the downtown nightclub Pure Ultra Lounge, according to an arrest affidavit.

Damian Ysasi admitted to entering the building on March 18 through a hole in the ventilation shaft on the roof and taking the credit and debit cards. He told the Austin Police Department’s Burglary Unit that he had hidden the audio equipment on the roof of an adjacent business.

After providing a drawing of where he had hidden the DJ equipment, police recovered an electronic turnable from underneath a metal box on the roof a business neighboring Pure.

Police located Ysasi after Walker Rump, 19, was arrested for attempting to use a debit card stolen from Pure at a downtown convenience store on March 19, the affidavit said.

Rumpf told police that he had received debit cars from a man he identified as Ysasi, a Hispanic male with pink hair, who had been arrested for “robbery by assault” on March 18, the affidavit said.

The arrest affidavit said security footage shows Ysasi climbing up the back of the bar the day of the burglary.

There is currently no evidence that this incident is connected to the federal investigation of the company that owns and manages Pure, Yassine Enterprises, for money laundering and drug distribution. APD representatives were not available to comment upon the incident as of Friday.

Ten Austin area residents connected with Yassine Enterprises, operator of several Austin night club venues, were arrested yesterday in a federal investigation related to drug and money laundering charges.

The FBI, Internal Revenue Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Texas Comptroller’s Office, Texas Attorney General’s Office, Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and Austin Police Department were all involved in “official business” at Treasure Island Pirate Bar on Sixth Street near Neches Street, said IRS spokesman Mike Lemoine. FBI agents and other department officials were seen at the bar collecting documents and boxes of potential evidence around 11 a.m. Thursday.

Lemoine said the investigation of Yassine Enterprises involves all venues managed by the company: Treasure Island Pirate Bar, Pure Ultra Lounge, Kiss & Fly, Stack Burger Bar, Malaia World Lounge, Roial, Hyde, Fuel and Spill.

Company owner and president Hussein Ali Yassine, also known as Mike Yassine, 40, was among those arrested.

According to a statement by the U.S. Department of Justice, “Authorities believe that [Hussein Ali Yassine, Hadi Ali Yassine, 35, Mohammed Ali Yassine, 38, and Marisse Marthe Ruales, 33] used several business establishments located in downtown Austin to launder over $200,000 in cash, which they believed to be the proceeds of narcotics trafficking.”

According to the statement, the Government is filing criminal charges and seeking monetary judgements against the defendants totaling about $300,000, which they claim represents property involved in the alleged offenses.

All defendants are still in federal custody and face maximum prison sentences anywhere from 20 years to life, according to FBI spokesman Erik Vasys and the statement. Federal authorities also believe defendants Mohammed Ali Yassine and Nizar Hakiki, 32, transferred a firearm with the knowledge that the weapon would be used to commit a drug trafficking crime.

Mohammed Ali Yassine and Amar Thabet Araf, 29 are accused of distributing large quantities of cocaine between December 2007 and January 11, 2008, according to their official indictment.

“[Three of the defendants] unlawfully, knowingly and willfully did combine conspire, confederate and agree with others known and unknown to distribute five hundred grams or more of a mixture or substance containing a detectable amount of cocaine,” the indictment stated.

The United States Government sought to hold Yassine and Araf liable for the forfeiture of $13,600, “constituting the proceeds of the above-described offenses,” in the indictment.

All defendants appeared in court yesterday afternoon and are scheduled to have a further hearing on Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Green.

Yassine Enterprises is also the subject of a class action lawsuit filed by former employee Jake Webb, who claims that the company regularly refused to pay wages to tipped employees. That case does not appear at this point to be related to the federal investigation.

APD officers have been assisting the FBI with the investigation and were present for the search, said Lisa Cortinas, spokeswoman for APD.

Printed on Friday, March 23, 2012 as: FBI investigates alleged illegal activity at clubs