NEW YORK (AP) — Former major league outfielder Yasiel Puig did not have a criminal attorney with him and felt compromised partly because of his mental health issues at an interview with federal agents investigating an illegal gambling operation, according to a statement Tuesday night from his agent.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday that Puig, 31, will plead guilty to lying at that interview. Court documents say he has agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements and after doing so could face up to five years in federal prison. He also agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000.
“The government’s indictment arises out of a single interview he gave back in January via Zoom," said Puig's agent, Lisette Carnet of Leona Sports Agency.
“He came to the interview feeling rushed, unprepared, without criminal counsel with him, and also lacked his own interpreter. Given his history growing up in authoritarian Cuba, government interviews are triggering and only worsen his ADHD symptoms and other mental health struggles, for which he is in treatment. He would have benefited from this care at the time of the interview.”
Carnet said Puig's lawyer, Keri Axel, has also clarified that under the sentencing guidelines he is eligible for probation.
“I want to make clear that many headlines have been completely misleading, with some articles making downright false statements," Carnet said. "Yasiel Puig has not been charged with illegal gambling, was not a member of a gambling ring, nor did he bet on baseball. He has not been indicted for gambling of any kind on any sport whatsoever nor for any involvement with any illegal gambling. The absolute ‘only conduct at issue is what he said or did not say during an interview’ conducted by IRS and HSI Officials, as described in a statement released by his attorney.
“Yasiel Puig was not the target of the government’s investigation; he was asked by the government to be a witness against the gambling organizers and others.”
Puig batted .277 with 132 home runs and 415 RBIs while appearing in seven major league seasons, the first six with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He earned an All-Star selection with the Dodgers in 2014.
Puig played for Cincinnati and Cleveland in 2019 before becoming a free agent. He then played in the Mexican League and last year signed a one-year, $1 million contact with South Korea’s Kiwoom Heroes.
Carnet said Puig's legal trouble does not prevent him from playing in the major leagues or abroad “per organization regulations.”
“Puig took responsibility, and this agreement with the government should end this whole unfortunate incident,” Carnet said.
MLB would not investigate unless Puig attempts to sign with a big league organization.
In an August plea agreement, Puig acknowledged that over only a few months in 2019 he wracked up more than $280,000 in losses while wagering on tennis, football and basketball games through a third party who worked for an illegal gambling operation run by Wayne Nix, a former minor league baseball player.
Puig placed at least 900 bets through Nix-controlled betting websites and through a man who worked for Nix, authorities said.
In his plea agreement, Puig acknowledged lying in January to federal investigators who were looking into the business, denying he had placed bets through the operation.
Nix pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and filing a false tax return. Prosecutors said Nix’s operation ran for two decades and included both current and former professional athletes as clients or employees.
Federal prosecutors also announced Monday that another former MLB player, Erik Kristian Hiljus, 49, of Los Angeles, had agreed to plead guilty to two counts of subscribing to false tax returns. They said he was an agent for Nix’s operation.
Hiljus was drafted by the New York Mets in 1991 but made his major league debut in 1999 with the Detroit Tigers. He also played for the Oakland Athletics in 2001 and 2002. He pitched 124 innings in four seasons, going 8-3 with a 4.72 career ERA.
Hiljus could face up to six years in federal prison at sentencing.
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