The secret settlements that helped a baseball star play on

When Yasiel Puig was accused by two women of sexual assault in 2017, their claims were kept hidden for years — until another woman spoke out

Yasiel Puig during the 2017 World Series. Puig was accused by two women of assault that year, but the allegations were kept secret by confidential settlements. (Matt Slocum/AP)
24 min

LOS ANGELES — On the evening of Jan. 30, 2017, a woman showed up at a police station in Southern California to report an alleged sexual assault.

After attending the Los Angeles Dodgers’ FanFest two days earlier, the woman told police, she met up with a man she had casually dated. But as they engaged in consensual sex later that night, she claimed, he grew enraged and began to strike, choke and bite her until she went into shock and nearly passed out.

She was initially reluctant to identify her alleged abuser, according to a police report, saying it was a “person who is famous and she does not want the attention.” Eventually, though, she gave police a name: Yasiel Puig, star outfielder for the Dodgers.

Police photographed the woman’s alleged injuries, but she said she didn’t want to pursue charges, and Puig later denied her claims. But their encounter was not the only one that week that resulted in an allegation against Puig.

The day before FanFest, another woman later claimed, a date with Puig ended with him pushing his way into her apartment and sexually assaulting her. No charges were filed, and Puig also denied that woman’s accusations. But the two allegations, said to have been committed on consecutive days by one of baseball’s best-known players, had the potential to rock the sports world and crater Puig’s career.

Instead, the public never learned of them.

With famed lawyer Gloria Allred representing the accusers, Puig reached confidential settlements with both women, according to copies of the agreements obtained by The Washington Post. In the agreements, Puig denied both women’s allegations. His attorney, Scott Lesowitz, said the ballplayer paid the women a total of $325,000.

Major League Baseball learned of the allegations during the 2017 season, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly. But instead of placing Puig on paid administrative leave while it investigated — as it often has done in cases when the allegations are public, including this year with Dodgers star pitcher Trevor Bauer — MLB allowed him to play on.

MLB did get Puig to grant the women permission to speak with investigators, the people familiar with the situation said. But it’s not clear whether the women chose to do so. MLB closed its investigation without taking action, a decision “based on the evidence available to league investigators,” according to an MLB spokesman. Puig then had one of the best seasons of his career, helping the 2017 Dodgers get within one win of a World Series championship.

This October, Puig met with a Washington Post reporter in Miami to make the case he was being unfairly blackballed from baseball. The Post had not yet obtained documents detailing the allegations against him, but court records hinted at previous nondisclosure agreements (NDAs). Lesowitz, though, would not allow Puig to answer questions about the allegations or settlements.

This month, after The Post obtained the documents, Puig’s representatives scheduled another interview with him, but Lesowitz canceled it. Puig, 31, then posted to social media a photo of him reading a flaming newspaper.

“Yasiel’s advisers at the time strongly advised him to enter into the agreements despite Yasiel denying the allegations,” Lesowitz wrote in a statement to The Post. With “limited English abilities,” Lesowitz wrote, Puig “deferred to his advisers.” Lesowitz did not address the allegations in detail.

Puig’s current agent, Lisette Carnet, described the settlement amount with Allred as “peanuts.” She said that Latin players are a target for false claims and that reaching secret settlements with accusers is a widespread practice in baseball, with some agents considering it “part of the business behind the game.”

Puig’s attorney in the agreements, Daniel Petrocelli, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Allred, who represented the women, declined to comment, as did Puig’s agent at that time, Adam Katz of Wasserman Media Group.

The woman who went to police declined to comment through her current attorney. The woman who claimed Puig forced his way into her apartment did not respond to repeated requests for comment, nor did her current lawyer. The Post does not name alleged victims of sexual assault unless they ask to be identified.

Stan Kasten, Dodgers president and CEO, said of the 2017 allegations against Puig, “I have no recollection of that at all.” He declined to answer further questions.

The revelation of previous allegations against Puig offers a new perspective on his career and on MLB’s struggle to confront alleged mistreatment of women by players and others in the game. It also provides a rare glimpse of the mechanisms of secrecy that can keep MLB, teams and the public from learning about serious allegations made against players.

The women’s 2017 claims remained shielded from public view for five seasons as Puig — a Cuban-born star whose prodigious skills guaranteed him tens of millions of dollars before ever stepping on American soil — bounced from Los Angeles to Cincinnati to Cleveland, where he last played in the majors in 2019.

In the meantime, Puig was privately accused by another woman. Only when settlement talks broke down — and when that woman, in a lawsuit last year, accused Puig of assaulting her in a bathroom during a Los Angeles Lakers game — did the public learn of any sexual assault allegation against him.

“The public should have known,” Vince Finaldi, an attorney for that woman, said of the previous allegations.

But Puig also denied this latest allegation, saying he had consensual sex with the woman. He recently settled her lawsuit and began plotting his comeback, declaring in a statement that he “looks forward to a fresh start in the MLB in 2022.” Instead, with MLB in a lockout, Puig settled for baseball in South Korea, signing last week with the Kiwoom Heroes for a reported $1 million.

Within weeks of his major league debut in 2013, Puig looked like a born superstar. Having signed a $42 million deal with the Dodgers at 21, he knocked in 10 runs in his first five major league games and batted .436 in the first month, igniting a fan frenzy known as “Puigmania.”

But hints of trouble quickly surfaced. He was arrested twice during his rookie year for reckless driving, though both charges were dropped. And in late 2015, Puig was one of the first investigative subjects of MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

Baseball’s policy was born of a scandal in another sport. After a video emerged of NFL star running back Ray Rice punching out his then-girlfriend — prompting a Senate hearing and allegations of a “culture of silence” in pro leagues — MLB touted a “landmark” agreement with its players’ union. The new policy allowed MLB to place players on paid leave during investigations and gave the commissioner wide latitude to determine discipline.

MLB investigated Puig that November after news reports that he allegedly pushed his sister at a Miami club and fought with a bouncer. MLB won’t say what investigators found, but it ultimately did not suspend Puig and he faced no charges. “MLB obviously found that I did not push my sister,” Puig told The Post.

That year, MLB and the players’ union agreed on an “addendum” to the policy for baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement, which took effect in 2017 and expired this month. The new policy deemed it a “failure to cooperate” if a player entered into an agreement that prevented him or his alleged victim from “cooperating with an investigation.”

Puig was one of the first test subjects of this new policy, too.

In late January 2017, the same month the new CBA took effect, Puig appeared eager to rebuild goodwill after injuries and behavioral issues had derailed his promising young career, briefly landing him in the minors. At the Dodgers’ annual FanFest, he accepted blame for his demotion and profanely pledged to regain his previous form.

But the documents obtained by The Post reveal a troubling secret history of that offseason.

After meeting Puig on Instagram, the first woman, who lived in Los Angeles, went with Puig to a nightclub, according to a letter Allred sent to Puig describing the allegations. At about 2:30 a.m., the woman said, Puig offered to take her home, and she realized he was intoxicated.

“You drove at dangerously fast speeds and cut across traffic like a maniac,” the letter reads. When Puig insisted on walking her to her door, the woman said, she protested — “I’m drunk. You’re drunk. You need to go.” — but he insisted and pushed his way into her apartment.

Once inside, the woman alleged, Puig started kissing her and pulled off her underwear, though she repeatedly told him to leave and that she was not interested in sex. She claimed Puig then attempted to rape her as she “squeezed her inner thighs tightly to keep her legs glued together” and begged for him to stop.

Her screams were so loud, the letter said, that Puig finally stopped, then attempted to force her to perform oral sex on him. After she resisted, she claimed, Puig ejaculated and left. There’s no indication the woman reported the alleged assault to the police.

The next day was FanFest. Puig attended; the second woman did, too, according to a letter from Allred. Afterward, Puig invited her to join him at his friend’s house in Santa Fe Springs, a small city in southeast Los Angeles County.

They had consensual sex in a bedroom. But during intercourse, she claimed, Puig noticed a bruise on her leg and accused her of having sex with somebody else. He became “very angry,” according to Allred’s letter, and “violently and repeatedly slapped her across the face.” Then, the woman claimed, he used his left hand to choke her “with all of [his] strength.”

The woman “feared for her life and she thought you were going to kill her,” Allred wrote. The woman said Puig only released her when she began to pass out. She said she then texted her friend, who had accompanied her to Santa Fe Springs, to come into the room to “rescue me.”

“Let me burst the f--- in lmao,” the friend, identified in the records by only her first name, responded, according to copies of text messages obtained by The Post, which are also quoted in the police report. The woman said her friend found her “in distress,” and they left immediately.

Two days later, the woman attempted to report the sexual assault to the police in Santa Fe Springs. She was told to get a “courtesy report” from her local department in Beaumont, Calif., 80 miles east of Los Angeles, according to the Beaumont police report.

She spoke with a patrolman, who photographed her apparent injuries. He observed that she had a bruise on her right shoulder that she said was from Puig grabbing her, “marks” on both sides of her lower neck, and “light colored bruising” on the left of her chin, according to the report.

The officer wrote that he asked the woman “what she wanted done with the slapping and strangling, with wanting prosecution or just documented,” and that she responded “she just wanted this documented, she does not want all the attention, she just wants record of her coming in and she is not emotionally ready.”

The officer said he sent his report to officials in Santa Fe Springs and Whittier, Calif., which handles police services in the area where the alleged assault took place, “for additional follow up.” According to Allred, her client also went to a hospital for treatment of her injuries “a few days” after the alleged assault, though her letter does not specify any medical findings.

There is no indication police followed up, and the police report remained shielded from public view. Beaumont police would not provide their report to The Post, which obtained it separately, nor would they provide any information about it, despite a provision in California’s public records law that requires it.

“The public interest served by not disclosing the record(s) requested clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record(s),” the police chief determined, according to a letter from the city’s lawyer.

On March 20, 2017, during spring training, Allred mailed Puig the two letters. The Los Angeles woman, Allred wrote, had childhood trauma reignited by the alleged assault and was “deeply depressed and unable to sleep through the night.” The Beaumont woman was “suffering from anxiety, sleeplessness, and other physical manifestations arising from her extreme mental distress.”

In both letters, Allred offered Puig a “singular opportunity” to resolve the claims “through a confidential mediation process.”

By April, the records show, Allred’s two clients and Puig had reached separate confidential settlement agreements that stated Puig denied their claims “in full.” Violating the deals would cost the women, according to the agreements — $50,000 for the Beaumont woman and $100,000 for the Los Angeles woman.

Allred has in recent years faced criticism for her involvement in a practice that has helped wealthy and powerful men, including film producer Harvey Weinstein, escape public accountability. Allred has responded by arguing that confidential settlements “help vulnerable victims get a measure of justice.” Petrocelli, Puig’s attorney, also reportedly represented Weinstein in at least one confidential settlement.

Carnet, who recently became Puig’s agent but has worked with him for years, said she didn’t know the details of the 2017 allegations. But if Allred had credible cases, Carnet argued, she would have held out for more money from Puig, whose salary was $8.2 million the following season. Carnet said that if the settlement were closer to $500,000 or $1 million, “now it’s hush money — this is not. This is more like, ‘Oh, my God, here we go again.’ ”

Puig was five years removed from poverty in Cuba, she noted, and followed professional advice on how to handle the allegations. “If you would’ve had a Yasiel Puig who was savvy, who had been here for 10 years at least, who had been around people that actually cared about him, would that have happened?” Carnet asked. “Probably not.”

An MLB spokesman, citing its policy to not disclose the details of its investigations, declined to say how MLB learned of the allegations or what its probe entailed.

But during the first half of the 2017 season, MLB wielded its new policy addressing NDAs, getting Puig’s attorney to stipulate in writing that the women could speak to investigators, according to the people with knowledge.

It’s unclear, though, whether the women did speak to MLB, and the investigation closed without discipline. Legal experts who have studied sexual assault and domestic violence said being legally released from an NDA does not always convince an accuser to cooperate.

“If there’s already been a settlement — whether or not there’s a binding NDA — there’s not only little incentive to report, but there’s also fear of reporting, that if they report they’ll be the victim of abuse again,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the Sports Law program at Tulane University. “So whether they are free to speak legally, they often choose not to.”

Amos Guiora, a University of Utah law professor who has written about institutional complicity in sexual assault, particularly in sports, said he has seen cases of alleged victims being released from NDAs to speak to a company’s internal investigators. The message received, including from the alleged victim’s attorney, is often “buyer beware,” Guiora said.

“It’s clear that you are subtly encouraged to just move on with your life,” Guiora said. “It’s the subtext, the undertone — that’s the concern.”

MLB’s policy allows the commissioner to place a player on paid leave upon opening an investigation or to defer that action until the player is charged with a crime or MLB “receives credible information corroborating the allegations.”

The decision to let Puig keep playing was consistent with MLB’s handling of allegations that aren’t made in public. When a player is arrested or accused publicly, as Bauer was, MLB has acted swiftly to get him off the field. But in cases that are not public, MLB typically has only placed a player on leave — exposing the existence of an allegation — within a week or two before taking disciplinary action, as MLB did last season with the Washington Nationals’ Starlin Castro.

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It’s a kind of accommodation for privacy that is threaded throughout baseball’s agreement with its union, particularly when it comes to handling sensitive, and potentially damaging, allegations. Unlike other MLB team employees, players are not required to disclose to MLB when they learn of sexual assault, domestic violence and other allegations made against them or their teammates, according to an MLB official.

And because of the confidentiality provision of the sexual assault and domestic violence policy, MLB is, with some exceptions, prohibited from telling teams about investigations of their own players unless it takes disciplinary action.

Spokesmen for MLB and the players’ union declined to comment on what, if any, elements of the policy are being revisited in the ongoing labor negotiations.

“There are competing interests. There is the interest in the public wanting to know, and public safety, but also the privacy interests of the parties to the case itself,” Feldman said. “It may not be the perfect outcome, but it’s the outcome that the owners and the players agree to.”

Guiora added, “It’s as if they’re interested in having information — protecting the public, protecting fans, blah blah blah — when in real, real life, no way do they want this stuff public.”

After signing the settlements, Puig hit a career-high 28 home runs while leading Los Angeles to the World Series, capping a 2017 season that resurrected his career. “[H]e’s a big part of the Dodgers,” the Los Angeles Times declared.

Puig had another productive season in 2018, again helping Los Angeles reach the World Series. But the Dodgers, after shopping Puig for years, dealt him to Cincinnati that winter. The Reds signed him to a one-year deal for $9.7 million.

Puig was best known in 2019 for his role in a brawl with Pittsburgh Pirates players that started minutes after news broke that he was being traded to Cleveland. But what fans, and potentially his own teams, didn’t know was that he played much of that season while engaged in more secret negotiations over another sexual assault allegation.

This alleged assault occurred three days after the end of the 2018 World Series, Puig’s last game as a Dodger. The woman’s allegations are described in a letter her lawyer, Taylor Rayfield, sent in September 2019 to a mediator assigned to help broker a settlement. Through Finaldi, her current attorney, the woman, who is not identified in the letter or court records, declined to be interviewed.

At a Lakers game that Halloween, the woman claimed, she was entering the restroom inside a lounge at Staples Center when Puig “pushed his way” in. He then “physically barred” the door, the woman claimed, and attempted to kiss and grope her. While she resisted, she said, Puig held her in place, masturbating until he ejaculated and she escaped.

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“Even when she briefly forgets about what happened the assault sneaks back up on her to steal whatever moment she has for herself,” Rayfield wrote in her letter. “She won’t go to the bathroom in public places and is paranoid everywhere she goes, for fear of what may happen.”

The woman made an “opening demand” of $12 million, according to the letter. Puig later said he refused to settle because the allegations against him were “100 percent fabricated,” claiming they had consensual sex.

With all of these allegations still secret, Puig was free to pursue a new contract. He reportedly landed one with the Atlanta Braves before the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but the deal fell through after Puig tested positive for the coronavirus. He spent the season unemployed.

On Oct. 29, 2020, the Staples Center accuser sued Puig. The same day news of the lawsuit broke, Puig signed with a new agency called Luba Sports. Rachel Luba, the agency’s then-28-year-old founder, was being lauded in the media as a young pioneer in a male-dominated field. But only one other major league ballplayer had been linked to Luba Sports in the media or in a public agent-client database: Trevor Bauer.

Like Puig, Bauer has been accused of choking and striking women during consensual encounters that turned violent. Like Puig, he has denied the women’s claims and accused them of targeting him for financial gain.

Shortly after Luba signed Puig, filmmakers employed by Bauer arrived at Puig’s white modernist mansion near Miami to make a redemptive series about Puig’s impending comeback.

The pitcher’s film company, Momentum, produced the videos, posting them online as a series called “La Vida De Puig.” The videos captured Puig signing with Luba, undergoing cryotherapy and, in a video they called “Yasiel Puig is the Most Misunderstood Player in Baseball,” lobbying for a new contract.

Luba declined to comment. In a statement, Bauer’s spokeswoman said that he was “not involved in the coordination or production of this series” and that Luba was also “not a factor,” instead saying Puig’s manager independently approached Momentum. “Mr. Bauer has no personal relationship with Yasiel Puig,” the spokeswoman added.

Despite the videos, with the allegations against him now public, Puig went unsigned. He spent last season exiled to the outfield of a Mexican League team, earning a fraction of his former major league salaries.

Puig attempted to fight back by filing a counterclaim against his latest accuser. He was in the “prime of his career” before the woman’s “false and defamatory” allegations brought it to a “standstill,” he argued, and he sought to recoup lost salary in the amount of “at least $10 million.”

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The woman’s attorney, Rayfield, described counterclaims such as Puig’s as “an orchestrated and calculated strategy by high-paid corporate lawyers to intimidate victims and their lawyers from seeking justice.” She also made Puig’s other accusers a focus.

“We know that there’s other victims,” she told a local television station that November, mentioning that some of the accusers had signed NDAs.

Rayfield and her associates then sought to pierce the secrecy of those NDAs, according to attorneys involved in the case. They deposed Puig’s former agents and his accuser in Beaumont and pursued records from Allred and the police departments in Los Angeles and Beaumont.

But the secrecy of the agreements persisted. Allred and the police initially resisted giving up documents, records show, and a judge ruled any law enforcement records obtained through court procedures were to be kept confidential, lest they “cause personal or professional harm.” When Rayfield subpoenaed MLB for Puig’s disciplinary files, she said, MLB responded with only public news releases concerning on-field incidents, citing “Mr. Puig’s privacy rights.” (An MLB spokesman said that with the lawsuit settled, the league is now “actively reviewing” the case.)

The woman’s attorneys did manage to depose Puig, who appeared via Zoom from Mexico. But he would not answer questions about other accusers, asserting his right against self-incrimination, and he maintained that before he was sued, the only thing hampering his career was a positive coronavirus test.

“Nobody told me anything,” Puig responded when asked if he was told why teams stayed away from him in 2020. “I wasn’t in the majors because I had covid.”

When Puig showed up to his lunch meeting with The Post in October, his hair and beard were overgrown and he was dressed shabbily, in sweatpants and a rumpled T-shirt.

By his side was Carnet, his agent at Luba Sports. Puig credited Carnet, who is Cuban American, with getting him to seek mental health treatment for the first time. As a result, he had been accompanied in Mexican dugouts by his therapy dog, a Dutch Shepherd named Karel.

“Nobody helped me,” Puig said of his career before Carnet. “Nor did I help myself.”

But with the lawsuit against him still pending, Puig was impatient for the baseball world to recognize his redemption: “There’s no reason for me not to be playing,” he said.

His accuser’s attorneys offered to settle shortly afterward. Puig quickly accepted, claiming victory on social media. The settlement was for $250,000, with the accuser paying her own attorney’s fees.

Puig maintained that the relatively small payout indicated he was innocent. There was, potentially, another reason: because his accuser wanted to get something while she still could. Less than a month earlier, Puig’s attorneys had disclosed to the woman’s attorneys his financial “condition,” which they said showed his limited ability to pay. The documents, reviewed by The Post, showed that Puig’s $50 million-plus in major league earnings had been reduced to overdrawn checking accounts, expired endorsement deals and an MLB retirement account emptied of roughly half a million dollars.

“I hardly have any [money],” Puig acknowledged, blaming attorney costs. He has since been unable to pay the entire settlement and has instead agreed to do so in installments, court records show.

Shortly after settling the lawsuit, Puig left Luba Sports for Carnet’s newly formed agency specializing in Latin players. He also agreed to another brief interview with The Post, this one via FaceTime from behind the driver’s seat of his parked Range Rover. He had gotten a haircut and was wearing a bejeweled necklace and watch. “I feel good,” he said, fiddling with his designer shades.

He then explained in Spanish that the only reason he settled was to remove the lawsuit as a hurdle in his quest to one day return to the major leagues.

“I want my chance to play, and that was supposedly the only reason I wasn’t given that opportunity,” Puig said. “Hopefully I don’t see any other reason pop up.”

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