Cuban Baseball Player Yasiel Puig Set For Trial On Federal Lying And Obstruction Charges

Yasiel Puig’s desire to return to the majors — where he last played in 2019 — may not be realized at any point soon, if at all.

The 32-year-old Cuban-born outfielder is set to go to trial in Los Angeles federal court April 25 to face charges of lying to federal authorities and obstruction of justice. Puig’s alleged crimes are connected to his involvement with an illegal gambling operation. Magistrate Judge Pedro Castillo will preside over the trial.

The obstruction charge carries a maximum federal prison sentence of 10 years, while the perjury charge has a statutory maximum of five years, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California, which is prosecuting Puig.

Puig entered into a plea agreement last November, and had agreed to plead guilty to lying to the feds during a January 27, 2022 Zoom call. But less than a month after the Department of Justice press release announcing the plea arrangement, Puig did an about face and said he would fight the charge.

“I want to clear my name,” Puig said in the November 30 statement.

Earlier this month, Puig pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles federal court, but was hit with the additional obstruction count in a superseding indictment, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Both Keri Axel, Puig’s criminal defense attorney, and Lisette Carnet, his agent, issued statements via Puig’s Twitter account after the obstruction charge was added.

“We are disappointed that the United States Attorney’s Office has further entrenched itself in its unfair prosecution of Yasiel Puig,” read Axel’s statement. “There is no new conduct at issue: the new charge for alleged obstruction is based on the same unfounded allegations as the initial charge, all concerning a single Zoom interview. By adding the additional count, they are seeking to punish Puig for exercising his Constitutional rights and asserting the truth – that he is not guilty.”

“We have attempted to show Puig’s exculpatory evidence to the US Attorney’s Office and yet our sincere requests have been ignored. We are dumbfounded as to why the Office would prefer to spend taxpayer dollars without attempting to look at our evidence,” Carnet said in her statement.

In the original plea agreement, prosecutors allege that Puig began to place sports bets in May 2019 — when he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds — through a third party “who worked on behalf of an illegal gambling business run by Wayne Joseph Nix.” Nix was a former minor league baseball player who started the bookmaking business after 2001, prosecutors said.

The plea agreement says Puig racked up over $282,000 in gambling losses by June 17, 2019, and that he later purchased two cashiers’ checks for $100,000 each which were used to pay off those debts. Puig then placed 899 bets on sporting events between July 4, 2019 and September 29, 2019 through websites affiliated with Nix’s gambling ring, according to Puig’s plea deal.

Nix pleaded guilty in April 2022 to one count of conspiring to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 8.

Federal authorities investigating Nix’s gambling ring interviewed Puig via Zoom in January 2022, and allege that the former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder lied several times during the interview. The feds said in the plea agreement that Puig was in the presence of an attorney, although it was not Axel.

When Puig was asked by the feds about the third party Puig used to place bets through Nix’s gambling operation, prosecutors say Puig claimed he didn’t know the third party (identified in court documents as “Agent 1”). Prosecutors also allege Puig lied about the cashiers’ checks he used to pay off the gambling debts.

“The agents also presented defendant (Puig) with a copy of one of the cashiers’ checks he purchased on June 25, 2019, made payable to Individual A, and asked defendant why he sent the cashier’s check,” reads Puig’s plea agreement. “Defendant falsely stated that he had placed a bet online with an unknown person on an unknown website that resulted in a loss of $200,000.”

Meanwhile, Puig’s legal team now includes prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, whose past clients include the families of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. Puig’s legal team filed a motion in federal court this month accusing federal investigators in Puig’s case of “implicit bias in how they treat Black witnesses.”

A rep for Puig and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office did not respond to emails. Puig played professional baseball in Korea last year. He attended the 2022 MLB winter meetings in hopes of finding a major league employer.

There have been other notable federal perjury and obstruction cases involving former baseball players. In 2011, home run king Barry Bonds was found guilty by a San Francisco federal jury of one obstruction count in his trial connected to the sprawling BALCO steroids trafficking case. The conviction was later overturned by a federal appeals court.

In 2012, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens was acquitted on all counts in his federal perjury and obstruction of Congress trial in Washington D.C. Clemens had been indicted by a federal grand jury after testifying before a congressional committee in 2008.