I-Drive Giant Faces Hearing Today on Bail


By Henry Pierson Curtis and Pedro Ruz Gutierrez | Sentinel Staff Writers
Posted November 21, 2002

Jesse Maali won't sleep at home tonight unless he proves there's nothing illegal about $10 million raised to bail him out of the Seminole County Jail.

The source of the gift-shop magnate's funds will be questioned at 2 p.m. in federal court in a hearing required in any case requiring a substantial bond.

U.S. Magistrate David A. Baker set the record bail for Orlando this week for the Palestinian-American millionaire charged with money laundering and 54 counts of violating immigration law.

If convicted, he faces 20 years in federal prison.

The case attracted national attention after the U.S. Attorney's Office accused Maali last week of having ties to groups supporting Middle East violence.

Orlando defense attorney Mark NeJame said the record bail will not hurt his client financially.

"It's going to be cheaper than a $1,000 bail in state court because he doesn't have to pay 10 percent to a bondsman," NeJame said. "He'll get 100 percent of it back."

Maali's wealth comes from more than 20 gift shops, clothing stores, restaurants and numerous real estate holdings in Central Florida.

Prosecutors fear he might flee the country because he has several million dollars in overseas bank accounts.

After his arrest last week, he admitted hiring 53 foreign nationals to work illegally at his Big Bargain World and Sports Dominator stores, prosecutors said.

His bail must be co-signed by three Maali relatives and three unrelated supporters as an incentive to ensure Maali will return to court.

Baker initially required Maali to post half of the $10 million bond in cash but has agreed to allow property to cover a larger portion. Four tracts of land valued at about $8 million are being posted, NeJame said.

Cash for the remainder of the bail will come in a certified check from Maali's five Ponderosa Steakhouse restaurants, the top five producers of chain's 450 restaurants, according to interviews.

Another bail condition requires Maali to wear an electronic monitoring anklet, but his Isleworth mansion may pose unusual challenges.

Mike Chatman, a federal pretrial services official in Orlando, would not comment on Maali's case, but the tracking equipment it uses has a range of 150 feet.

That means Maali may have to live within half of his 10,500 square feet home to stay within range. Or, he will have to install additional telephone lines to accommodate more transmitters.

Source: Orlando Sentinel