Prosecutors on Tuesday accused baseball agent Bart Hernandez of masterminding the human-trafficking scheme that brought Jose Abreu and other top Cuban talent to the United States, saying Hernandez had signed a working agreement with a since-murdered smuggler to transport high-value baseball players.
In a court filing, prosecutors said Hernandez and his partner, Julio Estrada, were part of a conspiracy with Joan “Nacho” Garcia, the head of a scheme that ran Cubans through Mexico and into the U.S. After traveling to Mexico to meet with Garcia in April 2009, according to the filing, Hernandez signed an agreement with Garcia’s mother to work with him.
While Garcia was kidnapped and presumed killed seven months later, the tactics he developed continued under the new head of the smuggling ring, Eliezer Lazo. When players arrived in Mexico, the court record said, “he was told not to flee or he would be shot.” When one player tried to escape, Garcia called his wife and said he would kill the player if he didn’t return.
Garcia, and later Lazo, operated a business that at first smuggled everyday Cubans for $10,000 per person, according to prosecutors, and “held Cuban migrants hostage in prison-like conditions.” Baseball was far bigger business. The cost of Cuban players boomed over the past half-decade, with teams spending more than three-quarters of a billion dollars on established major league talents like Abreu, who signed a six-year, $68 million contract with the Chicago White Sox.
“Hernandez and Estrada hired Nacho to smuggle Cuban baseball players because that violent organization already demonstrated its ability to smuggle, detain, coerce, and restrict regular Cuban migrants,” prosecutors said.
In previous court filings, prosecutors allege Abreu paid more than $6.4 million to Hernandez and Estrada, part of the $8.9 million in money investigators have accounted for among 17 players. They believe Hernandez and Estrada helped smuggle close to 35 players and were enriched to the tune of $15 million.
Hernandez worked with the Praver Shapiro agency, whose two principals, Barry Praver and Scott Shapiro, have since partnered with Magnus Sports, the agency owned by pop star Marc Anthony. Neither Praver nor Shapiro has faced allegations of involvement in the scheme. Hernandez faces up to five years in federal prison if convicted on conspiracy and alien-smuggling charges.