Yasiel Puig made an appearance at the recently-concluded Major League Baseball winter meetings in San Diego, the Cuban-born free agent in search of an employer after playing in Korea this past year.
Only a few weeks earlier, Puig generated headlines of a different kind when he was named in a U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California press release as having agreed to a plea deal in a federal illegal gambling investigation. Puig, 31, agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements to federal agents, according to the release.
But according to a recent statement released by Puig’s attorneys and posted on social media by his agent, Lisette Carnet, the former Dodgers outfielder will fight the allegations and enter a not guilty plea.
“I want to clear my name,” Puig said in the November 30 statement.
According to Puig’s original plea agreement, federal authorities from several agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations, interviewed Puig on January 27, 2022 via Zoom in connection with the federal probe into an illegal gambling ring.
Prosecutors said Puig lied multiple times during the interview when he was asked about his gambling ties to an operation run by former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix. According to court documents, Nix, 46, started the gambling business after 2001 in the Los Angeles area.
“Through his contacts in the sports world, Nix developed a client list that included current and former professional athletes, and he employed three former Major League Baseball players to assist with the business,” prosecutors said. Nix pleaded guilty in March 2022 to one count of conspiring to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return.
According to prosecutors, Puig met an associate of Nix in January 2019, when Puig was a member of the Cincinnati Reds. Puig placed bets through the associate in May 2019, prosecutors said, and by June 17 of that year, he had racked up $282,900 in gambling debts. After Puig paid off $200,000 of the debts using cashiers’ checks, he placed an additional 899 bets through Nix’s operation, on tennis, football and basketball games between July 4 and September 29, 2019, prosecutors said. (Puig was traded to the Cleveland Guardians (then Indians) in July 2019).
“When given the opportunity to be truthful about his involvement with Nix’s Gambling businesses, Mr. Puig chose not to,” Tyler Hatcher, the IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office Special Agent in Charge, said in the DOJ press release. “Mr. Puig’s lies hindered the legal and procedural tasks of the investigators and prosecutors.”
Now Puig’s attorneys say their client will plead not guilty after “significant new evidence has come to light” in the case. According to the Nov. 30 statement from Puig’s attorneys — Keri Axel of Waymaker LLP and civil rights lawyer Lawrence Middleton —Axel is in discussions with the government about the new evidence.
“At the time of his January 2022 interview, Mr. Puig, who has a third-grade education, had untreated mental-health issues, and did not have his own interpreter or criminal legal counsel with him,” Axel said in the statement, referring to the January Zoom between Puig and federal agents. “We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel.”
Puig’s agent, Carnet, said in a previous statement that Puig also suffers from ADHD.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California did not respond to a request for comment regarding Puig’s not guilty plea. MLB has previously declined comment.
Even though Carnet and Axel both said previously that Puig hopes to continue his baseball career next year — with Carnet saying the legal matter “does not impede (Puig’s) ability to play in MLB or abroad” — Puig would likely be subject to a league investigation if he were to sign with a major league club and would face discipline if he was found to have violated MLB rules on gambling.
This past year, Puig played for the Kiwoom Heroes in the Korean Baseball Organization.