Judge Says Jesse Maali Isn't a Flight Risk

Posted 5:26 p.m. EST January 17, 2003

I-Drive businessman Jesse Maali, who is under federal indictment for money laundering and immigration violations, will not have to put up five million dollars cash to stay out of jail. A federal magistrate ruled that, despite questions over the legitimacy of two properties Maali used to secure a ten million dollar bond, he is not a risk to leave town.

U.S. magistrate David Baker did not decide whether prosecutors can seize those properties they say Maali bought with some dirty money. But he did rule that Maali's ten million dollar bond arrangement will stand as is, because others have guaranteed it and because Maali has good reason not to leave the country - to keep his property and businesses.

"I cannot leave the country. That's my country here. I've been here for forty years," says Maali.

Jesse Maali's defense attorney accused federal prosecutors of ambush and said their argument for being able to seize two properties Maali used to get out of jail was out of whack and possibly even a constitutional violation. The defense says Maali's ten million dollar bond is unreasonably high for someone accused of financial crimes. Even so, Maali has not complained and has not in any way violated the terms of his release.

The defense had asked the judge to lower bond. Prosecutors had argued that some of the money Maali bought those properties with were illegal profits from his Big Bargain World shops. They say Big Bargain World would not be able to stay in business if not for the competitive advantage Maali got from hiring illegal workers and money laundering.

Prosecutors accuse Maali of skimming more than four million dollars from the registers at Big Bargain World to pay illegal workers who they say were the majority of workers. They say Big Bargain World did not pay social security, medicare or unemployment taxes for the illegal workers and did not pay them time and a half for overtime hours. Prosecutors say Maali's Big Bargain World stores collected six-percent sales tax from customers but did not give the money to the state of Florida and now the state is investigating that.

The defense argued there was no direct link between Big Bargain World's profits and Maali's investments in the two properties he used to post bond. "More of the same. We've been going at this from the first day. Every time one thing is said, something else happens. But so far, all these uncharged accusations, you've seen what's happened to them. They've landed with a thud, so we'll see how these fall," says Maali's attorney Mark NeJame.

Prosecutors want to seize several of Maali's properties based on the argument that Maali's dirty money makes whatever he bought with any of it dirty as well. Today, U.S. magistrate David Baker left those decisions for the trial judge and said, ultimately, it may be appeals courts that make the final call.