A Major League Baseball agent and one of his business associates were found guilty by a Miami jury Wednesday in a human smuggling case that opened a window into the seedy underworld that brings would-be baseball stars from Cuba to the United States.
Agent Bart Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada are now awaiting punishment after a jury found that they illegally smuggled baseball players into the country using falsified documents. They were facing conspiracy and alien smuggling charges for their actions dating back to 2009.
The crux of the case involved Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin, who Hernandez represented when he signed a five-year, $15.5 million deal with the Texas Rangers in 2011. From the Associated Press:
Trial evidence showed an existing Cuban smuggling operation that brought people from the communist-run island to Mexico became the platform in 2009 for the much more lucrative trade in elite ballplayers. People involved in that operation testified it was ultimately overseen by Hernandez and Estrada.
The players would be whisked from Cuba to Mexico or Haiti in a speedboat, sign papers claiming residency in their new country and eventually be cleared to sign with MLB teams. Prosecutors showed jurors how many of those documents contained false information, such as made-up jobs for players, and some travel documents were forged.
Beyond figuring out the criminal liability for Hernandez and Estrada, the trial also unveiled some eye-opening details about the process by which Cuban players come to the U.S.
• Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu testified about eating his own fake passport while on a flight from Haiti to the U.S. to enter into a contract with the White Sox.
• Martin told the story of a kidnapping attempt in Mexico. He was en route to the U.S., but another criminal organization broke into his apartment and threatened him, claiming they had guns.
Prior to closing arguments, the prosecution dropped charges related to Abreu and Dalier Hinojosa, a pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, citing a lack of evidence. According to the Miami Herald, Hernandez and Estrada face a minimum of three years in prison and up to five years on conspiracy charges and 10 years for smuggling.
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