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Cuban baseball players like Jose Abreu and Leonys Martin paid $15 million to smugglers for help defecting

Daily News, The Associated Press, MIAMI, April 27 — Cuban baseball players paid a South Florida-based smuggling ring more than $15 million to leave the communist island in secretive ventures that included phony documents, false identities and surreptitious boat voyages to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, federal prosecutors say.

A recently unsealed grand jury indictment against three men provides fresh details about the smuggling of 17 Cuban players, among them Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox and Leonys Martin of the Seattle Mariners. The smugglers usually took a percentage of any Major League Baseball contract a player signed.

The indictment names Bartolo Hernandez, a Weston, Florida-based sports agent whose clients included Abreu; Hernandez associate Julio Estrada, who runs Total Baseball Representation and Training in Miami; and Haitian citizen Amin Latouff of Port-au-Prince, who is not in U.S. custody and remains in Haiti. They are charged with conspiracy and illegally bringing immigrants to the U.S.

Estrada, who was arrested last week, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $225,000 bail. Hernandez pleaded not guilty when originally charged in February and is also free on bond.

Estrada’s lawyer, Sabrina Puglisi, said in an email Tuesday that he has never been involved in illegal human smuggling.

“He has always taken care of his players, training them so that they could achieve their dream of playing MLB in the United States,” she said.

The case is an outgrowth of the previous prosecution in Miami of four people for the smuggling of Martin out of Cuba, one of whom is serving a 14-year prison sentence. Martin is among the players named in the new indictment as well. None of the players have been charged.

 

Juan Caridad García