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Juror Error Leads To Mistrial

By Robert E. Kessler
SATURDAY, MAY 19, 2001

A mistrial was ordered Friday in the fraud case of Long Island City man after a juror acknowledged reading a newspaper story that discussed one fact that the judge had barred jurors from knowing: that the man also had been charged with murdering his wife.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler ordered the mistrial in the case of Ali Bessaha, 64, of 43-20 40th St. after one juror told him that another juror had read the Newsday story on Wednesday and mentioned it to other jurors at lunch Thursday.

Wexler had instructed the jurors in the U.S. District Court in Central Islip not to read or listen to any media account of the case because he considered the separate second-degree murder charge to be too prejudicial. The case at issue accused Bessaha only of defrauding his wife, Ourida, or her share of the couple’s $1.2 million during a contentious divorce.

Bessaha also is facing a trial in state court in Nassau County on charges that he murdered Ourida, 54, at her home in Hicksville in January 1999, shortly before he believed a judge would award her a share of the couple’s assets. The two were separated but had been married for 30 years.

After questioning the jurors Friday morning, Wexler said he would reschedule the case in the Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, the Bronx and Westchester. Wexler normally tries cases in the Eastern District, which includes Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Federal prosecutor Gary Brown said, “We’re obviously disappointed and are preparing for the next trial at which Mr. Bessaha should be convicted.”

Bessaha’s attorney, Todd Greenberg of Forest Hills, said he was “a little disappointed [since there was] a good chance to win the case.”