Ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig faces new charge in sports betting investigation

Former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who pulled out of a deal last year to plead guilty to lying to federal authorities in a sports betting investigation, has indicated he will fight the charges at trial after pleading not guilty Friday morning in a downtown Los Angeles courthouse.

After reneging on the plea deal, Puig, 32, now faces a charge of obstruction of justice in addition to the original charge of making false statements to federal officials, according to a superseding indictment.

For memory :

12:10 p.m. February 10, 2023An earlier version of this story stated that Puig would face trial on two counts of misrepresentation and one count of obstruction of justice. He faces one count each.

In November, the Cuban-born baseball player agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements and agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000. He would have been eligible for probation under the agreement.

But weeks later, Puig pulled out of the plea deal.

“I want to clear my name,” Puig said in a Nov. 30 statement. “I should never have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”

As part of the original plea agreement, federal prosecutors had agreed not to pursue a charge of obstruction of justice.

If found guilty of obstructing justice, Puig faces up to 10 years in prison. The count of false statements is liable to a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Federal prosecutors pursued both charges after Puig declined to plead guilty in November, despite the previous agreement. Puig pleaded not guilty to both counts Friday at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building.

Judge Pedro V. Castillo has set the trial date for April 25.

Federal authorities were investigating an illegal sports betting operation run by Wayne Nix, a former minor league baseball player who lives in Newport Beach, when Puig allegedly lied in interviews about his involvement, according to the original plea agreement.

Federal prosecutors say Puig lied when he told investigators in a January 27, 2022 interview that he never discussed betting with an unnamed agent working for Nix, described in the plea-only agreement. as “a former collegiate baseball player and private baseball player”. coach.” In fact, according to the government, Puig had incurred more than $280,000 in debt from sports bets placed with this agent in the first half of 2019.

After repaying part of the debt, according to the government, Puig made “899 bets on tennis, football and basketball matches” through an offshore website connected to the Nix ring.

There is no evidence in the plea agreement that Puig, who played for the Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians during his Major League Baseball career, bet on baseball.

Puig’s attorney, Keri Axel, said in a November statement that “significant new evidence” prompted the withdrawal of the plea deal. Axel did not say in the statement what this new evidence might be, and she told The Times through a spokesperson, “We stand ready to share this information publicly in the appropriate forum and at the appropriate time. appropriate.”

However, during a court hearing earlier that month, she suggested that the messages left for Puig by the anonymous agent and his associate raised the possibility that Puig may have been set up.

Of the Zoom interview in which Puig allegedly lied to investigators, Axel said: “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.

A spokesperson for Puig declined to comment Friday at the courthouse, pointing to a press conference scheduled for Saturday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles.

Times writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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