‘The Dark Side of Cuban Ballplayer Smuggling’

‘MLB agent Bart Hernandez arrested’

“Agent Bart Hernandez was arrested…after a federal grand jury indicted him on human-trafficking charges related to the smuggling of Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin into the United States from Cuba, according to sources and documents obtained by ‘Yahoo Sports’. INSIDE SPORTS, The Dark Side of Cuban Ballplayer Smuggling, 800x800“The sealed indictment, filed in a Florida federal court Feb. 12, alleges that Hernandez – who now works for ‘Magnus Sports’, the agency founded by singer Marc Anthony – conspired with smugglers to bring Martin into the United States in August, 2010… If convicted on conspiracy and financial-gain charges, Hernandez faces up to 20 years in prison, with a minimum sentence of three years. 

“The exodus of Cuban baseball players seeking jobs in Major League Baseball has accelerated with the hundreds of millions of dollars handed to defectors and in recent months, it has reached a staggering apex, with one source estimating nearly 350 Cuban players are today in the Dominican Republic, seeking jobs.

“Hernandez, a certified agent by the ‘MLB Players Association’, represents a number of current free agents, including Cuban defectors Luis Yander La O and Guillermo Heredia. Magnus Sports was formed in November and signed New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, one of the game’s biggest Cuban stars.

“The initials of Hernandez’s highest-profile client, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, now represented by ‘Relativity Sports’, appear in the indictment alongside Martin and Philadelphia Phillies minor leaguer Dalier Hinojosa’s. If convicted, Hernandez must forfeit proceeds from the contracts of the three and an additional $1.5 million, along with a 2001 Honda motorcycle. 2013-Topps-Tribute-WBC-Jose-Abreu“The indictment says Hernandez

“did willingly … and knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree with Eliezer Lazo, Joel Martinez Hernandez, and other persons … to commit an offense against the United States.”

“Lazo, the mastermind of the smuggling scheme, pleaded guilty to extortion conspiracy and was sentenced to more than 14 years in federal prison. He was already serving a five-year sentence for Medicare fraud. Martinez Hernandez was jailed for the Medicare-fraud case as well.

“According to a lawsuit filed by Martin, now a 27-year-old center fielder, Lazo and Martinez Hernandez held him and his family hostage while Hernandez and his employers, Scott Shapiro and Barry Praver, negotiated Martin’s five-year, $15.5 million contract with the Texas Rangers. Martin paid $1.2 million to ‘Estrellas del Baseball’, a front for Lazo and Martinez Hernandez’s smuggling operation, according to the lawsuit.

“Bart Hernandez, whose company ‘Global Sports Management’ remains in arbitration with Martin for fees owed, according to the indictment, had stayed active in player representation until his arrest Friday. Multiple executives told ‘Yahoo Sports’ they intended to call him about the status of Cuban free agents in coming days.”

–‘MLB agent Bart Hernandez arrested for human trafficking’,
Jeff Passan, Yahoo Sports, February 19, 2016

http://sports.yahoo.com/news/mlb-agent-bart-hernandez-arrested-for-human-trafficking-173308286.html Texas Rangers' Leonys Martin“Bart Hernandez, the agent who represents a number of Cuban-born MLB players including Jorge Soler and Jose Abreu, has been arrested for human trafficking related to smuggling Leonys Martin from Cuba…

“This brings to light one of the darkest sides of professional baseball. Furthermore, it seems to show a systematic way for corrupt agents to leverage their clients while they are in one of the most desperate positions of their career…

“Martin’s case appears to be especially unique… Martin reportedly signed his deal with ‘Estrellas del Beisbol’

“under extreme fear and duress.”

“Fans of baseball pay decidedly little attention to this side of baseball. It can be hard to find information on it, confusing, and it doesn’t conjure the utmost adoration for their favorite pastime. However, the more baseball fans play ignorant to the wrongdoings of defection and scouting in underprivileged parts of the world, the more cases like Hernandez’s will occur…

“The bond for Bart Hernandez has been set for $300,000, on the condition he surrenders his passport, according to Jeff Passan.

“Buckle in for a lo-o-o-ong ride because we’re only seeing the beginning of this story and these are the types where a slow-drip of information will be coming out over weeks and months. We’ll update as we see new reports.”

–‘Leonys Martin’s agent arrested for HUMAN TRAFFICKING’,
Michael Bradburn, MLB Daily Dish, Feb. 22, 2016

http://www.mlbdailydish.com/2016/2/19/11061754/bart-hernandez-leonys-martin-human-trafficking

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/20/sports/baseball/agent-for-leonys-martin-arrested-in-human-trafficking-case.html?_r=0 cuban.baseball‘Are Cuban Baseball Players Still Being Smuggled To The U.S.?’

“Baseball agent Bart Hernandez was arrested last week on human trafficking charges for smuggling Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin to the U.S. in 2010… While the alleged smuggling occurred well before the unthawing of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba in 2015, the illegal and dangerous practice doesn’t appear to have an end in sight.

“The recent defection of Cuban ball-playing brothers Lourdes and Yulieski Gourriel—whose father is a national baseball legend and who previously said they’d await permission to leave the country—indicates that free passage of players between the two nations is not imminent.

“It was the very signal to me that everything is still just as much in limbo between Cuba and MLB as it was a year ago”,

said Cuban baseball historian Peter Bjarkman—whose book “Cuba’s Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story” will be available May 16—in a telephone interview.

“Yulieski Gourriel had played the 2014 season in Japan and appeared set to return in 2015 before the player withdrew at the last minute, claiming injury.

“Apparently, from what I can gather from my sources in Cuba”, Bjarkman said, “he was actually told by very high-up [Cuban] officials not to report to Japan because they were going to work out a deal with MLB to send him to MLB.”

“That, of course, has not happened and means the flood of Cuban players to the big leagues will have to rely on more nefarious methods…

“For now, the reliance on alleged human traffickers to free players from Cuba needs immediate reform.

“That’s the scary part for me about that”, Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, who initially signed Martin in 2011, said last year. “No club is going to get involved with that process. First of all, it’s illegal. Second of all, there are probably a lot of things potentially involved there that none of us want to be connected with.”

“There’s no evidence that I could find anywhere that anybody in MLB directly has brought Cuban players out or even has tried to”, Bjarkman added. “Whether they’ve encouraged it or not is hard to say.”

La Tropical Stadium, Havana, 1939.
La Tropical Stadium, Havana, 1939.

“Cuba has a long history with baseball, dating back to the 1860s when American sailors introduced the sport to the country. It has since become a cultural tradition.

“I think it’s the first thing that Cubans do—they give their sons a stick to swing or you’re out throwing rocks”, Marlins catcher Adrian Nieto, who was born in Cuba but raised in Florida, said.

“Bjarkman called the 2000s the golden era of Cuban baseball as its league, the ‘Cuban National Series’, was full of bright young stars. The 2009 defection of current Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman—whose 105-mile-per-hour fastball is the fastest recorded in history—was a “turning point,” Bjarkman said. Since then, there’s been an exodus of the game’s best talents, effectively ruining the domestic league.

“It’s an important social institution that’s been torn to tatters”, Bjarkman said. “To the fans in the street, the big heroes are now the guys making multi-millions in the majors.”

“Cuban ballplayers have been defecting to play professional baseball in the big leagues at a rapid pace. A record 27 Cuban-born players appeared in the majors last season. (Many others have left their home country but failed to cash in.) In 2014, four White Sox players made history when they became the first Cuban quartet to start together since 1969.

“Since 2010, big league teams have signed at least 25 Cuban players to major league contracts worth at least $1 million for a grand total of $645 million.

“This time around it is not tobacco, sugar, or precious metals, but rather talented baseball players that stoke the lust of a cash-rich sector of the American corporate business community”, Bjarkman wrote in his book’s prologue.

“Many of the game’s brightest stars hail from the country, including Chapman, Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, not to mention top prospect Yoan Moncada, a Red Sox minor league infielder, and other hyped outfield sluggers looking to break out in 2016: the Red Sox’ Rusney Castillo, the Braves’ Hector Olivera, and the Diamondbacks’ Yasmany Tomas.

“As an international director”, one club’s top overseas scout has said, “you make your life around where Cuba goes.”

“Changes to baseball’s collective bargaining agreement limited the amount of money clubs can spend on young international talent, but proven professionals who are at least 23 years old were exempt, which encouraged many established Cuban players to make the dangerous exit from their native country.

“I think there’s a change in the political culture—that’s one [reason]—and I think that the financial incentive has grown and is so great right now that there’s been a lot of money encouraging some of these players to find ways out”, Daniels said.

“Several baseball players, executives, and union leaders made a goodwill tour of Cuba in December, before which commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement,

“Major League Baseball is very fortunate to have an opportunity to play a constructive role in the improvement of our country’s relations with Cuba.

“ . . . Baseball represents a pivotal common bond in our cultures, and the impact that Cuban ballplayers have made on our game is undeniable. I am hopeful that this tour will represent the beginning of a longstanding relationship.”

“Friday’s news, however, is a stark reminder of how far that relationship has to go and how much Cuban players already in the majors have risked to get there.”

–‘Are Cuban Baseball Players Still Being Smuggled To The U.S.?’
Joe Lemire, Vocativ, Feb. 22, 2016

http://www.vocativ.com/news/287894/are-cuban-baseball-players-still-being-smuggled-to-the-us/ lazaroarmenteros1‘American agent drops Cuban phenom Lazarito after death threat’

“The story of Lazarito, a 16-year-old Cuban phenom seeking to sign with a major-league club, has taken a dramatic and chilling turn.

“Charles Hairston, who has been the player’s negotiating representative in discussions with major-league clubs, told ‘FOX Sports’ on Monday night that his life was threatened by the Dominican Republic-based investor who represents Lazarito. Hairston said that his agency, at least for now, no longer would represent the player.

“Hairston declined to identify the Dominican Republic-based investor, or “buscon”, citing concerns for the safety of his co-workers.

“Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros became eligible to sign with a major-league team on Feb. 10. The conflict between his agency, ‘Culture39’, and his buscon arose from the buscon’s desire for Lazarito to sign with a team as soon as possible, rather than wait until July 2, when international-spending rules would allow other clubs to enter the bidding more aggressively, Hairston said.

“Hairston said that he secured an invitation for Lazarito to attend a team’s spring-training camp and meet with its general manager and ownership, but that the buscon withheld the travel documents for both the player and his parents, making such a visit impossible.

“Lazarito, who established residency in Haiti, currently is in the Dominican Republic. ‘Buscones’ — “finders” in the literal translation — generally offer young Latin American players assistance with training, housing and clothing in exchange for 20 to 25% of the player’s future salary, Hairston said.

“Hairston said that the tension between his agency and the buscon escalated after more than 140 scouts attended Lazarito’s showcase earlier this month at the Padres’ complex in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic.

“I feel for the kid. He is truly special. We are still looking forward to working with him when he comes to the United States once his situation is resolved”,

said Hairston, who is part of a family that has sent three generations of players to the majors, including his uncle, Jerry Hairston Sr., and cousins, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Scott Hairston.

“We already have several sponsorship and major endorsement deals lined up for him, not to mention his own clothing line which we are launching soon. But when his safety and ours is put in jeopardy, we had to think about what is most important in life.”

“For now, Lazarito’s immediate future and representation remains unclear. Lazaro-Armenteros“Lazarito, because of his youth and inexperience, is subject to international-spending limits; any team that signs him and already has exceeded its international budget would pay a 100% tax on the amount by which it surpassed its assigned bonus pool.

“The Los Angeles Dodgers, sources say, are interested in Lazarito even though they are subject to such penalties, which include the inability to sign an international player for more than $300,000 in the next two signing periods.

“The San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves, two other clubs pursuing Lazarito, are among the teams that would prefer not to incur the penalties until the next signing period, which begins on July 2.

“The frenzy to sign Cuban players stems in part from the clubs’ knowledge that the rules for accessing international players could change in the next collective-bargaining agreement. The current agreement expires on Dec. 1.

“Hairston’s account, meanwhile, is a sobering reminder that the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has yet to meaningfully alter the perilous path for Cuban players who wish to play in the majors.

“Lazarito’s present circumstance — seemingly being held against his will, along with his family, by at least one person who stands to profit from his first baseball contract — is similar to the ordeal that Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin faced before signing with the Texas Rangers five years ago.

“Last week, U.S.-based player agent Bart Hernandez was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of human trafficking relating to Martin’s escape from Cuba…

“Baseball has been closely tied to the changing U.S.-Cuba relations. A goodwill trip to Cuba featuring Cuban-born major-league stars Jose Abreu and Yasiel Puig took place in December. An exhibition game in Havana could happen next month between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuban national team.

“Against that backdrop, it’s conceivable that American and Cuban officials, in concert with MLB and the MLB Players Association, could agree on a method for the safe passage of Cuban players that includes a fee paid to the Cuban government.

“It’s unclear if the U.S. embargo against Cuba would need to be lifted by Congress in order for such a change to occur. A Congressional vote of that magnitude would be unexpected during a presidential election year.”

–‘American agent drops Cuban phenom Lazarito after death threat’,
Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi, Feb 23, 2016

http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/story/cuban-phenom-lazarito-american-agent-charles-hairston-drops-death-threats-buscon-dominican-022216

http://www.elnuevoherald.com/deportes/beisbol/article62123677.html Lazarito-1“There’s some mysterious activity going on these days at a remote beachfront property in the Dominican Republic. The media occasionally comes and goes, but the reason for their presence has created some curiosity. Is President Danilo Medina hosting a regional summit? Has Congressman Charlie Rangel bought another vacation hideaway? Actually, all the hype hovers around a muscular 16-year old baseball player, and his private workouts are no longer much of a secret.

“Just when it was rumored that the talent pool of Cuban ‘peloteros’ was starting to dry up, a kid named Lazaro Armenteros has surfaced, and veteran scouts claim he’s the best thing produced on the island since Santiago rum. Everyone simply calls him Lazarito, which is to say that that he has already become the Cuban version of Japan’s Ichiro. If fans recognize an athlete solely by his first name, that’s some serious shit.

“Truth be told, baseball’s supreme experts can only speculate how well Lazarito will perform at higher levels, because he hasn’t played competitively for 18 months. Yet, it’s certainly obvious that the 6′-2″, 205 pound youngster has mad skills, because he has already turned down a $15 million offer to play overseas. Lazarito has that rare combination of speed, strength and agility that Coach Tom Coughlin would find useful in the New York Giants backfield. The Havana native is clearly a special talent, and his defection is an embarrassment for the Cuban regime.

“Most of the world got its only peek at Armenteros when Cuba’s 15-under squad participated in a baseball World Cup at Culiacan, Mexico in 2014. Playing as a 14-year old corner outfielder, Lazarito hit .462 with three doubles and five triples, earning him a spot on the All-Tournament team. Lazarito“After achieving such success, Armenteros and his parents were stunned when he was removed from the club this year. That meant no more international exposure and an uncertain future. Many insiders who wish to remain anonymous claim that Lazaro Armenteros Sr., the boys father, had dared to speak out against the government and the family was being punished. That accusation has never been proven, making it more probable that the teen was considered a flight risk in a quest for better opportunities. Ironically, that notion was unfounded, as well.

“I had planned to continue my career in Cuba”, says Lazarito sincerely. “But after what happened, I knew I had to leave. I wasn’t going to quit playing and stop developing.”

“It should be pointed out that despite the relaxing of sanctions against the Communist island, rules pertaining to Cuban defectors remain unchanged until MLB owners and the players union can hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement after the 2016 season. So, for the time being, athletes must continue to establish residency in a third party country in order to sign a big league contract.

“Aware of the circumstances, Armenteros and his mother first flew to Ecuador to try and set up shop. But the pair were sent home, even though wealthy American retirees are welcomed with open arms. ‘Plan B’ was then set in motion, which entailed a flight to Russia with an itinerary that would eventually loop around to arrive in Haiti. That raised a red flag with officials in Moscow, which resulted in another return trip to Havana. During a layover in Germany, however, Lazarito purchased a separate ticket direct to Port-au Prince, where he landed safely and settled in.

“Haiti has been a popular sanctuary for Cuban players, including Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Dariel Abreu, and official baseballs used to be made there during better times. But the extreme poverty that now exists was a shocker for Armenteros, who grew up poor himself. Temporarily residing in a ramshackle Haitian house, he was dismayed to observe residents line up to consume scraps from a garbage can.

“It woke me up”, revealed Lazarito, who has six siblings. “It just made me more determined to achieve my goals and help my family.”

“With the help of his agent Ariel Nunez of the ‘Culture 39’ sports group, Armenteros was able to cross over the border to the Dominican Republic last May and train in better surroundings while his paperwork is being examined. Due to all the travel and general chaos, the youngster missed the free agent registration deadline, and it’s not clear whether he can sign immediately or must wait until the new international selection process resumes next July…”

–‘Cuban Teen Baseball Star Lazarito Is A Prospect To Keep Your Eye On’,
Esteban Randel, Remezcla, December 28, 2015

http://remezcla.com/features/sports/cuban-teen-baseball-star-lazarito-is-a-prospect-to-keep-your-eye-on/

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