Chicago White Sox star Jose Abreu (pictured) is among the Major League Baseball figures on a witness list for the upcoming trial against South Florida sport agent Bartolo Hernandez
Cuban baseball players who paid a smuggling ring to leave the communist island were held at gunpoint in Mexico and forced to sign Major League Baseball contracts, federal prosecutors say.
In the case against South Florida sport agent Bartolo Hernandez, US prosecutors said in a court document in Miami that baseball stars feared for their lives.
Hernandez is accused of partnering with a smuggling ring to force exclusive deals on 17 Cuban baseball players.
The head of a smuggling ring, Joan ‘Nacho’ Garcia, enlisted armed guards to hold players captive – taking away their passports – until they signed contracts with Hernandez and associate Julio Estrada, prosecutors said yesterday.
Players were also separated from their families so they could be used as leverage, the court filing claims according to CNN.
Free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who last played for the New York Mets, and Chicago White Sox star Jose Abreu are among the Major League Baseball figures on a witness list for the upcoming trial.
Documents filed last week in Miami federal court also list former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and several MLB executives as possible witnesses in the trial.
The trial is set January 3 for Hernandez and Estrada on charges of conspiracy and bringing immigrants into the US illegally. Both men have pleaded not guilty. The players are not accused of wrongdoing.
A grand jury indictment says Cuban baseball players paid the smuggling ring more than $15million to leave the communist-run island in secretive ventures that included surreptitious boat voyages to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Among the 17 Cuban baseball players who were smuggled is Miami Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (centre). The players are not accused of wrongdoing
Free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who last played for the New York Mets, is also on a witness list for the upcoming trial
The ventures included phony documents and false identities, federal prosecutors say.
Among the 17 Cuban baseball players who were smuggled is Miami Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who last year spoke about how he was smuggled through Mexico in 2009.
As Cubans, under US policy they are generally allowed to remain in this country once reaching US soil.
As part of the thaw in US-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 US 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.
Prosecutors are seeking forfeiture of more than $15.5million 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.