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Two Plead Not Guilty in US in Cuban Baseball Smuggling Scheme

  • VOA News

Authorities say the latest charges in the smuggling scheme stem from an earlier prosecution of four people linked to the smuggling of Leonys Martin, who defected in 2010 and now plays for the Seattle Mariners.

Authorities say the latest charges in the smuggling scheme stem from an earlier prosecution of four people linked to the smuggling of Leonys Martin, who defected in 2010 and now plays for the Seattle Mariners.

A baseball trainer and a sports agent in Florida have pleaded not guilty in U.S. federal court to charges linked to the smuggling of top Cuban baseball talent out of the communist country and into the United States.

Julio Estrada, owner of an athletic training business in Miami, who was arrested Friday, pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Miami. Bart Hernandez, head of a sports management company, who was arrested in February, also pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.

Prosecutors said a third suspect, identified as Haitian national Amin Latouff, remained at large.

No trial dates have been announced.

Authorities said the charges stemmed from an earlier prosecution of four people linked to the smuggling of Cuban superstar Leonys Martin, who defected in 2010 and currently plays with the Seattle Mariners.

Prosecutors said smuggling schemes involved 17 Cuban players who were secretly brought through Mexico to the United States. None of the players face charges.

Authorities alleged that Estrada and Hernandez conspired to "obtain false and fraudulent residency documents on behalf of the players" through a Mexican company. In exchange, authorities said, the smugglers took a percentage of any major league baseball contract signed by their clients.

In a pending civil lawsuit, the people who brought Martin out of Cuba in 2010 allege that Martin owes them millions of dollars in unpaid fees.

Martin has countered that he and his family were held captive until he paid $1.35 million of his $20 million contract to the Mexican company named in the latest indictments.

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