By Robert E. Kessler
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2001
A federal prosecutor began a second trial yesterday against a Queens man charged with defrauding his late wife out of her share of the couple's $1.2 million in assets.
Ali Bessaha, 65, of 43-20 40th St. in Long Island City, is accused in U.S. District Court in Manhattan of cheating his late wife, Ourida of Hicksville, through mail and wire fraud. He also is accused of obtaining a passport under fraudulent pretenses.
The first attempt to prosecute Bessaha on fraud charges ended in a mistrial at U.S. District Court in Central Islip in May when a juror disobeyed a judge's orders and read a newspaper account of the case. The juror then told another juror that the jury had been deliberately denied a key fact: that Bessaha also is accused of killing his wife.
U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler had told jurors not to read any newspaper accounts of Bessaha's trial, fearing it would prejudice the jury. A date to try the murder case in state court in Nassau County has not been set. Ourida Bessaha was found beaten to death in January 1999 in her Hicksville home. Federal postal inspectors initially gathered evidence of the alleged fraud, resulting in the first charges against her husband.
Bessaha's attorney, Todd Greenberg of Forest Hills, denies his client either killed his wife or cheated her out of any money.
As a result of the juror reading an account of the initial Bessaha trial in Newsday, Wexler ordered the second trial transferred from Long Island to Manhattan. During opening remarks yesterday, federal prosecutor Gary Brown said Bessaha used a complicated scheme to illegally transfer his and his wife's assets overseas amid their divorce so that she would not get her fair share. Brown said Bessaha was 'not playing by the rules' and wanted to make sure that his wife would 'not get anything.'
But Greenberg told jurors that his client was not transferring any of the couple's joint assets to France. Throughout their marriage, Greenberg said, Bessaha and his wife had always had separate assets, and the money that was transferred overseas belonged to his client.
The Bessaha's were involved in 'a bitter, bitter divorce action,' Greenberg said, 'but the federal government has no business getting involved in it.'