Leonys Martin, other players paid smugglers more than $15 million to
leave Cuba, according to records
The Dallas Morning News
Texas Rangers starting pitcher Martin Perez (33) thanks center fielder
Leonys Martin (2) on his running catch to end the top of the second
inning against the San Francisco Giants at Globe Life Park in Arlington,
Sunday, August 2, 2015. The Rangers won 2-1. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning
By Associated Press Contact Associated Presson Twitter:
MIAMI -- Cuban baseball players paid a South Florida-based smuggling
ring more than $15 million to leave the communist island in secretive
ventures that included phony documents, false identities and
surreptitious boat voyages to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic,
federal prosecutors say.
A recently unsealed grand jury indictment against three men provides
fresh details about the smuggling of 17 Cuban players, among them Jose
Abreu of the Chicago White Sox and Leonys Martin of the Seattle
Mariners. Martin signed with the Rangers in 2011 and was traded to the
Mariners in November 2015.
The smugglers usually took a percentage of any Major League Baseball
contract a player signed.
The indictment names Bartolo Hernandez, a Weston, Florida-based sports
agent whose clients included Abreu; Hernandez associate Julio Estrada,
who runs Total Baseball Representation and Training in Miami; and
Haitian citizen Amin Latouff of Port-au-Prince, who is not in U.S.
custody and remains in Haiti. They are charged with conspiracy and
illegally bringing immigrants to the U.S.
Estrada, who was arrested last week, has pleaded not guilty and is free
on $225,000 bail. Hernandez pleaded not guilty when originally charged
in February and is also free on bond.
Estrada's lawyer, Sabrina Puglisi, said in an email Tuesday that he has
never been involved in illegal human smuggling.
"He has always taken care of his players, training them so that they
could achieve their dream of playing MLB in the United States," she said.
The case is an outgrowth of the previous prosecution in Miami of four
people for the smuggling of Martin out of Cuba, one of whom is serving a
14-year prison sentence. Martin is among the players named in the new
indictment as well. None of the players have been charged.
Prosecutors have said the investigation is focused on the smuggling
organizations and not on the players. As Cubans, under U.S. policy they
are generally allowed to remain in this country once reaching U.S. soil.
As part of the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, MLB is in talks with both
nations' governments on a potential deal that could make it easier for
Cuban ballplayers to play in the U.S. without having to sneak away at
international tournaments or risk high-seas defections with smugglers.
But beginning in April 2009, prosecutors say, the South Florida-based
smugglers ran a flourishing and lucrative illegal pipeline for Cuban
players who must establish third-country residency in order to sign as
MLB free agents.
The indictment says that Hernandez, Estrada and Latouff "recruited and
paid" boat captains to smuggle players from Cuba to Mexico, the
Dominican Republic and Haiti. The plot included use of fake jobs for the
players, such as welder, mechanic, body shop worker -- even one who was
called an "area supervisor for Wet Set Ski."
The conspirators also used fake foreign and U.S. documents, including
falsified passports and visa applications, to get the players to the
U.S., according to the indictment.
The case of Abreu, who set a White Sox rookie record with 36 home runs
in 2014 and was named American League rookie of the year, is fairly
typical although the money involved is higher than most.
According to the indictment, Latouff paid $160,000 in August 2013 to a
boat captain to smuggle Abreu from Cuba to Haiti. There a fraudulent
visa and false name were provided so that Abreu could fly from
Port-au-Prince to Miami.
A short time later, Chicago announced Abreu had signed a five-year, $68
million MLB contract. But the court documents show he still owed the
smugglers millions and sent them several wire transfers in 2014 totaling
at least $5.8 million.
Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of more than $15.5 million in total
payments from ballplayers to the smugglers, as well as forfeiture of
four pieces of property in South Florida, four Mercedes-Benz vehicles
and a Honda motorcycle.
Source: Texas Rangers: Leonys Martin, other players paid smugglers more
than $15 million to leave Cuba, according to records | SportsDay -