The legal drama surrounding former MLB player Yasiel Puig continues to evolve. Up until November last year, it looked like the former Los Angeles Dodgers star would be punished for lying to federal investigators about his involvement in an illegal sports betting ring. He was likely to avoid significant jail time due to a plea deal.
It’s uncertain now what type of punishment, if any, he will face. Puig has backed out of the plea deal, so federal prosecutors have slapped him with an additional obstruction of justice charge in a superseding indictment.
Puig facing significant prison time if found guilty on charges
With Puig changing his plea, the 32-year-old will now likely head to trial for the original charge of lying along with the new charge of obstruction. Had he followed through with the deal, he was probably facing a fine of at least $55,000. He would have also been eligible for probation.
If found guilty at trial, Puig could receive a sentence of up to five years in prison. That’s the maximum sentence for lying to federal agents. The new obstruction charge also carries a five-year sentence.
Defense team claims Puig did not understand plea deal
Puig and his legal team claim the Cuban didn’t do what federal investigators say he did. Authorities accuse him of placing bets through a bookie while playing for the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians in 2019.
Puig told the Los Angeles Times he’s innocent.
“I want to clear my name. I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”
After being asked to speak with investigators in early-2022, Puig told them he would be in South Korea playing baseball. He requested a virtual interview rather than an in-person one. Investigators agreed to the video interview, which may have suggested Puig wasn’t a suspect of a crime.
The video interview took place on Jan. 26 last year. Puig supposedly did not have an interpreter with him. That’s a major part of the defense’s stance that he didn’t understand the deal.
Puig’s lawyer, Keri Axel, issued a statement following her client’s plea change.
“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. We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel.”
Key elements of the alleged crime
Legal documents allege that Puig started making bets in May 2019 through a person known as “Agent 1.” Agent 1 was allegedly working for Wayne Joseph Nix as a bookmaker. Nix, a 45-year-old former right-handed pitcher in the Oakland A’s farm system, has since pleaded guilty to running an illegal sports betting operation that took wagers from professional athletes.
Puig said he never discussed sports betting with Nix or any Nix employee, but a cashier’s check and WhatsApp messages allegedly from Puig dispute that.
The Nix employee in question – Agent 1 in legal documents – is a man named Donny Kadokawa, someone Puig told DOJ investigators he met while he was with L.A. Kadokawa works for the Dodgers through a partnership with his baseball training program, Kado Baseball. That gives merit to Puig’s claim that he knows Kadokawa through baseball, not through gambling.
Puig also reportedly worked closely with Kadokawa in preparation for his return to Major League Baseball with the Reds in 2019. The defense’s case will likely be built around the idea that Puig never considered Kadokawa a bookie, but rather a friend and someone he knew only through baseball.
In addition, the defense also claims that Puig is being targeted since he was the only athlete charged in a lawsuit that involved many athletes. While his defense team acknowledges Puig placed bets through a third party and never interacted with Nix, the team has now requested interview transcripts from prosecutors for both of the unnamed individuals tied to Puig’s case. They also seek any other plea agreement or charging documents that could assist with their defense.