Former player agent Bart Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada were convicted by a Florida jury of the charges that they smuggled Cuban baseball players in the United States in order to gain large profits from contracts when the players signed with teams.Hernandez and Estrada were indicted last month on conspiracy
Former player agent Bart Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada were convicted by a Florida jury of the charges that they smuggled Cuban baseball players in the United States in order to gain large profits from contracts when the players signed with teams.
Hernandez and Estrada were indicted last month on conspiracy and alien smuggling charges for an operation that dates back to 2009 and involves a group of players that includes White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin.
Defection -- either abandoning a national team during an international tournament or escaping Cuba to ports in Haiti or Mexico -- has traditionally been the only way for players to make it to the big leagues since the U.S. imposed a complete trade embargo on Cuba in 1962 during the early days of Fidel Castro's regime. Because of the embargo, any defector who wants to do business with an American company must first establish residency outside Cuba and the U.S. Players must also petition MLB for free agency before they can enter into a contract with a Major League club.
According to The Associated Press, trial evidence showed that Hernandez and Estrada oversaw a lucrative Cuban smuggling operation that brought people from Cuba to Mexico or Haiti in order to claim residency in a country outside of Cuba, the first step to establishing free agency.
During the trial, prosecutors showed that many of the documents contained false information and some travel documents were forged. Abreu testified that he ate part of his fake Haitian passport while flying to Miami in 2013 because he feared the penalty of landing in the United States with an invalid document. Abreu eventually signed a $68 million deal with the White Sox. Martin also testified that armed men had attempted to kidnap him.
According to testimony, players were required to pay Estrada and his organization close to one-third of the earnings they made from Major League teams. Hernandez received 5 percent for representing them.
Many of the players said during the trial that they were not directed by Hernandez or Estrada, who did not testify in their own defense, to take illegal actions and entered the U.S. on their own. The report also stated that Hernandez faces three to 15 years in prison and Estrada faces five to 35 years as result of being convicted on more smuggling counts.
Attorneys for Hernandez and Estrada claimed that the two ran legitimate businesses and provided the Cuban players with services needed to be cleared to play in the U.S.
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.