A Major League Baseball (MLB) coach and a sports agent convicted of smuggling Cuban players to the USA were sentenced to federal prison on Thursday. Julio Estrada and agent Bartolo Hernandez had been convicted in March.
The pair were jailed for having organized an illegal international network aimed at bringing Cuban-born players to the US, via Haiti and Mexico, in exchange for a cut of their baseball contracts.
Due to the US embargo of Cuba and immigration laws, players from the Caribbean island first arrived in Haiti or Mexico, where they applied for residency in order to be eligible to sign contracts with the Major League Baseball (MLB) teams.
Trial evidence showed that Hernandez and Estrada provided players with fake documents. They thereby deceived the US government into granting visas to players including MLB stars Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Yuli Gurriel of the Houston Astros.
Assistant US Attorney Ron Davidson said members of the smuggling ring overseen by Hernandez and Estrada “received about $ 20 million for Cuban player contracts worth about $ 230 million”, Sporting News reported.
Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, who entered the US from Cuba through the scheme and later signed a $ 68 million deal with the Sox, testified that, in fear of the consequences of being caught with a fake document, he ate pieces of his false Haitian passport while flying to America in 2013.
Lawyers for Hernandez and Estrada tried to convince the judge that the pair helped talented players to escape an oppressive Cuban regime and fulfill their dreams to play in the MLB. US District Judge Kathleen Williams was not impressed by such arguments.
“This case is not about fulfilling dreams. This case is certainly not about love of the game. This case is about money, millions and millions of dollars,” she said, ESPN reported.
Estrada was sentenced to 5 years and 3 months in prison, while Hernandez was sentenced to 3 years and 10 months. Both are planning to appeal their sentences.