Former Major League Baseball star Yasiel Puig has struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors that calls for him to spend up to six months behind bars for lying about his involvement in an illegal gambling operation.
The 31-year-old is scheduled to plead guilty Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court to one count of making false statements. Prosecutors have made no promises regarding his sentence, other than that it will be below the statutory maximum of five years in federal prison. But a plea agreement unsealed Monday puts his standard sentence at zero to six months in federal lockup.
Puig, who currently plays professional baseball in South Korea, has agreed to pay a fine “in an amount no less than $55,000,” according to the 27-page agreement.
Filed under his legal name Yasiel Puig Valdes, Puig’s case is connected to the federal prosecution of Wayne Nix, a former Minor League Baseball player who is scheduled to be sentenced next March after pleading guilty last April to one count of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return.
Puig isn’t his only customer to face criminal charges: Prosecutors announced Monday a separate plea agreement with former MLB player Erik Kristian Hiljus, 49, who agreed to plead guilty to two counts of subscribing to false tax returns. A former pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics, Hiljus was an agent for Nix’s gambling ring but didn’t work with Puig, prosecutors say.
A right fielder, Puig played for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2013 to 2018, when he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds traded him to the Cleveland Indians in July 2019. While still with the Reds, Puig met Agent 1 at a youth baseball camp, and Agent 1 helped him “in preparing for the upcoming baseball season,” according to the agreement, and eventually helped him get involve in Nix’s gambling business.
Puig’s lies to federal agents stem from his efforts to clear a debt with Nix that had resulted in Nix cutting off his access to his gambling websites.
As the plea agreement describes, Puig started betting on sports events in May 2019 through a man working for Nix who turned out to be cooperating with federal investigators, according to the agreement. Puig would call and text his wagers to the man, whose identified in the agreement as Agent 1, who would submit them to Nix’s gambling business. By the next month, Puig owed Nix $282,900 for his gambling losses, so agent 1 and two others arranged for Puig to pay $200,000 to a business that had also been making bets with Nix and was due “at least $200,000 in gambling winnings.”
Puig withdrew $200,000 from a Bank of America branch in the Los Angeles County suburb of Glendale, which he used to buy two cashier’s checks for $100,000 each.
But he didn’t immediately send the checks “due to a dispute over the balance and access to Nix-controlled websites used to place sports bets,” the agreement says, so Nix cut off Puig’s access to his betting websites until Nix paid the debt. When Nix gave it back, Puig responded by placing 899 additional bets on tennis, football and basketball games between July 4, 2019 to September 29, 2019.
More two years later, on Jan. 27, 2022, federal agents interviewed Puig “in the presence of his lawyer,” according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office press release, and he falsely claimed “that he only knew Agent 1 from baseball and that he never discussed gambling with him, when in fact Puig discussed sports betting with Agent 1 hundreds of times on the telephone and via text message.”
“After agents showed Puig a copy of one of the cashiers; checks he purchased on June 25, 2019, Puig falsely stated that he did not know the person who instructed him to send $200,000 in cashiers’ checks to Individual A. Puig also 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,” according to the release. “In March 2022, Puig sent Individual B an audio message via WhatsApp in which he admitted to lying to federal agents during the interview two months earlier.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced Puig’s case on Monday, after U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee unsealed it at prosecutors’ request. Prosecutors said the case can now be publicized because “the majority of the remaining targets in this investigation have been charged and/or notified of the government’s investigation.”
Prosecutors calculated Puig’s offense level for lying to investigators at 4, which under U.S. Sentencing Commission guidelines carries zero to six months in prison.
Martin Estrada, U.S. attorney for the Central District, said in the release, “Under our system of justice, no one is above the law. The integrity of our nation’s criminal justice system depends on people telling the truth, and those who fail to abide by this simple principle must face consequences.”
Tyler Hatcher, who is in charge of the IRS criminal investigation office in Los Angeles, said, “When given the opportunity to be truthful about his involvement with Nix’s Gambling businesses, Mr. Puig chose not to. Mr. Puig’s lies hindered the legal and procedural tasks of the investigators and prosecutors.”
[Image: Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images]
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