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Ex-pitcher Esteban Loaiza to face charges of cocaine dealing

By The Associated Press
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who earned more than $43 million over 14 seasons, is accused of drug dealing involving 44 pounds (20 kilograms) of suspected cocaine.

The 46-year-old former Major League Baseball player is scheduled to be arraigned in court in Chula Vista, California, on Wednesday.

Loaiza was arrested Friday on suspicion of drug smuggling after San Diego County sheriff's officers who pulled him over for a traffic violation found a "sophisticated" compartment used to hide contraband in his vehicle, according to investigators. Later they obtained a search warrant for the home he rented in the beach community of Imperial Beach, where officials say packages were found containing a white powder believed to be cocaine.

Loaiza played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, included stints with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.

Investigators have said the arrest was part of an on-going narcotics probe but have given few other details about how a successful baseball star became linked to a case involving the transport and sale of drugs with an estimated value of $500,000, according to the San Diego Sheriff's Department.

It was not immediately known if Loaiza had hired a lawyer and he could not be reached to comment. He was being held for lack of $200,000 bail pending Wednesday's court appearance.

Criminal defense attorney, David Shapiro, who has handled numerous drug cases in San Diego but is not representing Loaiza, said this one is unique because of his fame as one of Mexico's most successful pitchers.

"At the very least what it shows is how Mexico's drug culture is infiltrating every aspect of life, whether he was associated with people doing it or doing it himself," he said.

Born in Tijuana, the Mexican city across the border from San Diego, Loaiza became a celebrity in his native country after marrying the late Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. The "Diva de la Banda" was considered to be the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, selling more than 15 million records, and acting in reality television before she was killed in a plane crash in 2012.

She filed for divorce shortly before her death, ending their two-year marriage.

Agent John Boggs, who represented Loaiza during his Major League Baseball career, said he had not seen him in more than a year but that he had heard he was involved in a business selling Mexican-made hats.

"I love Esteban," Boggs told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "He's a great guy with a big heart — again, I don't know what or why he'd be involved in this. I have no idea. He's a friend, and I'm sorry as heck to see what's going on."

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