Former Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasiel Puig has withdrawn from an agreement to plead guilty to lying to federal agents amid an illegal gambling investigation, his legal team announced Wednesday. He will instead plead not guilty.
The Department of Justice previously announced that Puig, who spent last season playing in South Korea, agreed to plead guilty to making false statements to federal investigators, accepting a $55,000 fine.
In their statement, Puig's attorneys said "significant new evidence has come to light that prompted the change in plea" and announced they had added civil rights attorney Lawrence Middleton as a consultant.
“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.”
If Puig is found guilty of making false statements to federal investigators, he faces up to five years in prison, per the Los Angeles Times' Bill Shaikin.
The Times also noted that Puig attorney Keri Axel suggested at a hearing last week that messages left for Puig by an agent and his associate raised the possibility that Puig could've been entrapped.
Puig has not played in MLB since 2019, instead playing in leagues in Mexico, South Korea and the Dominican Republic. He has been accused of sexual assault by three different women in that span of time.
Puig placed hundreds of illegal bets and lied to agents, DoJ says
Puig's involvement in the federal investigation stems from allegations that starting in 2019, he placed bets on sporting events through a third party with an illegal gambling business run by former minor leaguer Wayne Nix.
In the span of about a month, Puig allegedly owed Nix's business $282,900 in losses, which he paid off via cashiers' checks. A second series of bets followed, totaling 899 additional bets on tennis, football and basketball games from July 2019 to September 2019.
A couple of years later, prosecutors say, Puig lied "several times" in an interview with federal investigators after being warned that lying was a crime. Among the false claims Puig is alleged to have made are that he knew the third party only through baseball, rather than the hundreds of illegal bets he allegedly made, and that he did not know the recipient of his cashiers' checks.
Prosecutors also claim that Puig sent a WhatsApp audio message to another person involved in the gambling business in which he admitted to lying to federal agents.
Axel defended Puig against the allegations by pointing to his education, mental health and lack of interpreter or criminal legal counsel:
"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," she said. "We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel."
The attorneys also said a number of athletes made illegal bets through Nix, and Puig was the only one targeted, though those bets aren't why Puig is being charged.