Two months after Yasiel Puig withdrew a guilty plea in a comprehensive illegal sports betting case, the former Major League Baseball outfielder is facing new charges in the matter.
Puig, who withdrew his guilty plea for making false statements to federal law enforcement officials, is now facing obstruction of justice charges in connection with the federal investigation. Puig, a one-time MLB All-Star, initially agreed to plead guilty to making false statements in November regarding a series of sports wagers he made with an illegal operator. But weeks later, Puig withdrew the guilty plea citing new evidence that prompted his attorneys to contest the charges.
Over a three-month period through September 2019, Puig placed nearly 900 sports wagers through a California-based illegal sports betting ring, according to court records. While Puig allegedly placed wagers on tennis, football, and basketball games, he is not accused of placing bets on baseball as an active MLB player.
Under MLB Rule 21, Commish Manfred has discretion to sanction a player caught placing bets w an illegal bookie While prosecutors claim that Puig placed 899 bets over a 12-wk period in 2019 it has not been alleged that he bet on the MLB as an active player https://t.co/Jqh8ew3JPJ
— Matt Rybaltowski (@MattRybaltowski) November 16, 2022
Puig opened the 2019 season with the Cincinnati Reds, where he spent the first half of the season, before the Reds sent him to Cleveland on July 31 in a three-team trade. That was the last year Puig appeared in an MLB uniform.
Explaining the charges
Beginning in 2019, Puig started to place sports wagers through a third-party agent who worked for an illegal sports betting operation, according to court records. The wagers were placed with a sports betting ring operated by Wayne Nix, a former minor league baseball player with the Oakland Athletics organization. Nix, according to prosecutors, enlisted a number of agents to place and accept wagers with the illegal operation. The wagers, court records show, were facilitated through Sand Island Sports, a Costa Rica-based entity.
By that June, Puig owed Nix’s gambling business $282,900 for sports gambling losses, according to court filings. Puig repaid a portion of his debt with check payments totaling $200,000, then resumed wagering with the operation on July 4, 2019, a court filing shows.
According to court filings, Puig met an individual described as “Agent 1” at a youth baseball camp in 2019. At a meeting last January, federal investigators presented Puig with a picture of the individual and questioned the outfielder on whether he conversed with the agent on his pattern of sports wagers. In response, Puig told investigators he only knew the agent through baseball, prosecutors noted.
Shortly after Puig appeared in U.S. District Court in California last November, a representative for the outfielder said that he felt rushed and unprepared for the meeting with law enforcement officials. Puig, a native of Cuba, conducted the interview without criminal counsel and was not provided with an interpreter, said Lisette Carnet, an agent for the former MLB player. After reviewing new evidence presented to Puig’s legal team last November, attorneys for the outfielder decided to withdraw the guilty plea.
“I want to clear my name,” Puig said in a November 2022 statement. “I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”
Attorneys for former MLB star Yasiel Puig claim new evidence could exculpate him of charges that he allegedly lied to federal investigators.
— Sports Handle (@sports_handle) December 1, 2022
Under an indictment filed last Friday, Puig is accused of making false statements to officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the Internal Revenue Service criminal investigations division. The statements from Puig were allegedly made during a Jan. 27, 2022, interview with federal law enforcement officials. According to the indictment, Puig allegedly “endeavored to influence, obstruct, and impede the due administration of justice by withholding information” from the agencies. In particular, Puig withheld information about Agent 1’s role in the operation and the payment of his gambling debts, according to prosecutors.
Puig reportedly neared a deal with the Atlanta Braves in July 2020, but talks collapsed when the outfielder tested positive for COVID-19. Last season, Puig hit .277 with 21 home runs and 73 RBIs for the Kiwoom Heroes of South Korea’s KBO League.
Last month, Puig and his agent met with two MLB teams at the Winter Meetings in San Diego, Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported. While Puig is still listed as a Kiwoom Heroes player on the official website of the South Korean team, the club is not expected to re-sign the outfielder, according to multiple reports.
Yasiel Puig has come to the Winter Meetings looking for a job and met with two teams. He played well in Korea but isn’t an easy sell. On left: with him his agent Lisette Carnet pic.twitter.com/pbDGg1jCxE
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 6, 2022
If Puig signs with an MLB club, he could face punishment from the league in connection with the illegal wagers. Under MLB Rule 21, Part D, the MLB commissioner has wide discretion in sanctioning a player who is caught placing a wager with an illegal bookmaker.
An attorney for Puig did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Sports Handle on Tuesday morning.