Wander Franco’s lawyers question evidence against Rays shortstop

Wander Franco’s lawyers are questioning the veracity of some of the evidence in the prosecutor’s case file regarding the Rays shortstop’s alleged relationship with a minor.

“There are serious questions regarding the authenticity of particular documents and references contained in the prosecutor’s confidential file, which was inappropriately disclosed to certain media outlets,” Jay Reisinger, Franco’s U.S.-based attorney, said in a statement Friday night.

“We are in consultation with Mr. Franco’s legal counsel in the Dominican Republic, and we intend to take the necessary legal measures in response.”

Reisinger declined to specify which materials in the nearly 600-page document, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times and other media outlets, are in question.

One of the most potentially damaging exchanges in the file is a WhatsApp message Franco allegedly sent to the teenage girl with whom he is said to have had a relationship starting in December 2022 and lasting four months, and paid to keep quiet. Franco was 21 at the time, the girl 14.

“My girl,” Franco is alleged to have written, in Spanish. “If my team realizes this, it could cause problems for me. It is a rule for all teams that we cannot talk to minors, and yet I took the risk and I loved it.”

Franco, now 22, remains under investigation in his native country, accused of sexual and psychological abuse, and abduction He has not been formally charged, but if found guilty could face two-five years in prison, according to the Associated Press.

A judge on Jan. 9 dismissed accusations of money laundering and sexual exploitation, a day after Franco was released from jail. He had been detained for failing to respond to a summons to speak to prosecutors.

As conditions of his release, Franco paid the equivalent of $34,000 and agreed to make monthly appearances in court through June, the first of which is Jan. 30.

Major League Baseball also is investigating Franco for potential violations of the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. The league has the power to suspend him but is unlikely to take action before the Dominican legal process plays out.

The case file, in Spanish, includes other alleged messages from Franco and transcripts of interviews with the girl, including comments about her mother, who has been accused of money laundering due to payments she allegedly received from Franco and is under house arrest.

In one interview, according to ESPN, the girl said her mother “see(s) me as an object to make money.” In another, the girl said she moved out of the family home as a result: “I don’t see her as a mother. A mother doesn’t do what she has done with me.”

The file also includes comments from a cousin to authorities that Franco would send a helicopter or a car to take the girl from her hometown to his, about a 3½-hour drive, ESPN reported.

The girl reportedly told a forensic psychologist that Franco — who is married with two kids — wasn’t shy about being seen with her and took her to social events.

The relationship allegedly continued when Franco reported to spring training in 2023 but then began to splinter and the girl started to see someone else.

Per ESPN, the investigative file contains other WhatsApp messages, including this alleged exchange:

Franco: “I would like you to forget everything you have learned to raise you my way.”

The girl: “And what is your way? Without love? Without respect?”

Franco: “There was more to it but you’re just a girl and you don’t know how to get along with me, that’s why you failed, but I’ll give you only one chance, you must be only for me. Don’t look at anyone, I know you’ve been with someone else, but no one will know how to use you the way I want.”

That conversation, according to the file, upset the girl and eventually led to her mother filing the first official complaint against Franco and then to the social media posts that resulted in him being taken off the field by Major League Baseball and placed under investigation.

The girl reportedly said: “I feel sorry because I didn’t want to hurt (Franco). He was good to me.”

If MLB doesn’t conclude its investigation by the start of spring training next month, it could put Franco back on administrative leave, where he was placed in August after the allegations first surfaced. He received his $2 million salary and accrued service time but was not allowed to be with the team. He last played on Aug. 12.

But that decision also could be moot.

Given the nature of the allegations against Franco, immigration experts say he may not be allowed to reenter the United States with his visa. If Franco is unable to report for the Feb. 20 start of full-squad workouts in Port Charlotte, the league and Rays could place him on the restricted list. If that status carried into the regular season, he would not be paid the $2 million he is due this year. Overall, the Rays still owe Franco $174 million from the 11-year, $182 million guaranteed deal he signed in November 2021.

Major League Baseball officials and the Rays declined to comment Friday, as they have throughout the process.

• • •

Sign up for the Sports Today newsletter to get daily updates on the Bucs, Rays, Lightning and college football across Florida.

Never miss out on the latest with your favorite Tampa Bay sports teams. Follow our coverage on Instagram, X and Facebook.