Yasiel Puig has withdrawn a guilty plea in connection with charges of lying to federal investigators probing an illegal gambling ring in Southern California, attorneys for the former Major League Baseball outfielder said in a statement Wednesday.
Puig, a former MLB All-Star with the Los Angeles Dodgers, reached an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in mid-November to plead guilty to one count of making false statements to law enforcement officials about sports bets he made with an illegal operator. Puig was initially scheduled to make an appearance last Wednesday in Los Angeles federal court for a formal hearing that was delayed until Tuesday afternoon.
Attorneys for Puig, however, withdrew the plea citing “significant new evidence” that prompted the legal team for the former MLB outfielder to contest the allegation.
Over a three-month period through Sept. 29, 2019, Puig made nearly 900 sports wagers through an illegal operator based in Southern California, federal court records show. While Puig allegedly placed bets on football, tennis, and basketball according to federal prosecutors, he is not accused of placing bets on baseball as an active MLB player.
Puig’s guilty plea and statement can be used against him at trial. Smart money says Puig’s fluency in English is a major issue going forward. https://t.co/CyZie6tCya
— CJ Mordock (@CJMordock) November 30, 2022
The charge of lying to federal law enforcement officials surrounds comments Puig allegedly made to investigators in January.
“I want to clear my name,” Puig said in the statement. “I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”
Lost in translation
The charge against Puig stems from an investigation into a sports gambling operation run by Wayne Nix, a former minor-league baseball player. Starting in 2019, Puig began placing wagers with the Nix Gambling Business through an unidentified former college baseball player, according to court records.
Puig joined the Cincinnati Reds in December 2018 in a seven-player trade with the Dodgers. Puig placed a series of bets in 2019 through a third party and did not interact with Nix, attorneys for the player said in the statement. The illegal bets were allegedly facilitated through Sand Island Sports, a Costa Rica-based company. Nix, 46, pleaded guilty in April to one count of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return. Four other defendants have offered guilty pleas in connection with the illicit gambling ring.
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
After amassing gambling debts in excess of $282,000, Puig purchased two cashier’s checks for $100,000 each on June 25, 2019, that were used to repay a portion of his losses, federal prosecutors allege. During January’s meeting with federal law enforcement officials, investigators questioned Puig on whether he discussed any wagering information with the former college player, described by federal officials as “Agent 1.” While Puig allegedly told prosecutors that he placed a bet online with an “unknown person” on an unknown website, the former MLB player made a series of bets directly through Agent 1, according to the Justice Department.
The Dodgers signed Puig to a seven-year, $42 million deal in 2012. Puig is a native of Cuba who reportedly attempted to defect to Mexico more than a dozen times in an effort to sign a major league contract.
“At the time of his January 2022 interview, Mr. Puig, who has a third-grade education, had untreated mental-health issues, and did not have his own interpreter or criminal legal counsel with him,” Puig’s attorney, Keri Axel of Waymaker LLP, said in a statement. “We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel.”
— MLB Player Agent Lisette Carnet (@lisettecarnet) November 24, 2022
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Mitchell, one of two prosecutors working on the case, has indicated that the Justice Department has made the evidentiary disclosures available to Puig’s attorneys, the Los Angeles Times reported. Federal prosecutors have provided discovery information to Puig’s defense team, a Justice Department spokesman told Sports Handle on Wednesday night.
The interview conducted on Jan. 27, 2022, was held in the presence of Puig’s attorney, prosecutors stated in an August plea agreement.
The charge of lying to a federal law enforcement official carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. Puig was eligible for probation under his plea agreement, according to his attorneys.
Puig, who last played in MLB in 2019, spent last season with with the Kiwoom Heroes of South Korea’s KBO League.
There are no further hearings scheduled at this time, the department spokesman added.