Former Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasiel Puig appeared headed for jail time last month. However, that may not be the case.
The slugger initially agreed to plead guilty for lying to investigators about his involvement in an illegal sports betting ring. However, Puig has decided to change his plea to “not guilty” and will instead take his chances at trial.
What went into Puig’s original decision?
Puig allegedly placed hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal sports bets beginning in 2019, when he played for both the Cincinnati Reds and the Cleveland Indians. According to the Department of Justice, he did this through a business run by Wayne Nix, who pled guilty to multiple charges in early-2022.
What got him in hot water wasn’t the sports betting, but what he told federal agents. Per the DOJ, Puig said he never discussed sports betting with a Nix employee, but records of a cashier check and WhatsApp messages were enough to merit charges of lying to the feds.
Puig’s plea agreement meant he could face up to five years in prison. Instead of taking the deal, though, he’ll stand trial in an attempt to clear his name.
Why the sudden about-face?
In a statement released Wednesday, Puig’s lawyer, Keri Axel, said the following:
“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.”
The lawyer added discussions with the government about the new evidence are ongoing.
More on the illegal sports betting ring
Whether in Ohio or California, Puig’s alleged sports bets were illegal. Ohio sports betting is set to be legalized on Jan. 1, 2023. California sports betting, meanwhile, could have been legalized on Election Day, but Prop 26 and Prop 27 were crushed at the ballot box.
Prosecutors allege Nix’s operation included plenty of current and former professional athletes. One of them, former pitcher Erik Hiljus, has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of subscribing to false tax returns. He could face up to six years in federal prison for his role in the business.