MLB agent Bart Hernandez arrested for human trafficking

·MLB columnist
Leonys Martin defected from Cuba in 2010. (AP Photo)
Leonys Martin defected from Cuba in 2010. (AP Photo)

Agent Bart Hernandez was arrested Friday morning after a federal grand jury indicted him on human-trafficking charges related to the smuggling of Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin into the United States from Cuba, according to sources and documents obtained by Yahoo Sports.

The sealed indictment, filed in a Florida federal court Feb. 12, alleges that Hernandez – who now works for Magnus Sports, the agency founded by singer Marc Anthony – conspired with smugglers to bring Martin into the United States in August 2010. He is expected to appear at the U.S. District Court in Miami at 2 p.m. on Friday. If convicted on conspiracy and financial-gain charges, Hernandez faces up to 20 years in prison, with a minimum sentence of three years.

The exodus of Cuban baseball players seeking jobs in Major League Baseball has accelerated with the hundreds of millions of dollars handed to defectors, and in recent months it has reached a staggering apex, with one source estimating nearly 350 Cuban players are today in the Dominican Republic seeking jobs. Hernandez, a certified agent by the MLB Players Association, represents a number of current free agents, including Cuban defectors Luis Yander La O and Guillermo Heredia. Magnus Sports was formed in November and signed New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, one of the game's biggest Cuban stars.

The initials of Hernandez's highest-profile client, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, now represented by Relativity Sports, appear in the indictment alongside Martin and Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer Dalier Hinojosa's. If convicted, Hernandez must forfeit proceeds from the contracts of the three and an additional $1.5 million, along with a 2001 Honda motorcycle.

The indictment says Hernandez "did willingly … and knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree with Eliezer Lazo, Joel Martinez Hernandez, and other persons … to commit an offense against the United States." Lazo, the mastermind of the smuggling scheme, pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy and was sentenced to more than 14 years in federal prison. He was already serving a five-year sentence for Medicare fraud. Martinez Hernandez was jailed for the Medicare-fraud case as well.

According to a lawsuit filed by Martin, now a 27-year-old center fielder, Lazo and Martinez Hernandez held him and his family hostage while Hernandez and his employers, Scott Shapiro and Barry Praver, negotiated Martin’s five-year, $15.5 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Martin paid $1.2 million to Estrellas del Baseball, a front for Lazo and Martinez Hernandez’s smuggling operation, according to the lawsuit.

Bart Hernandez, whose company Global Sports Management remains in arbitration with Martin for fees owed, according to the indictment, had stayed active in player representation until his arrest Friday. Multiple executives told Yahoo Sports they intended to call him about the status of Cuban free agents in coming days.