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Yasiel Puig to plead guilty to lying to prosecutors in gambling case

Yasiel Puig made hundreds of sports-related wagers, with no indication any of them were on baseball, through an illegal gambling operation. (Matt Slocum/AP)
5 min

In a case stemming from a federal probe of an illegal gambling operation, former MLB player Yasiel Puig agreed to a plea deal that could land him a prison sentence of several years.

Puig, 31, is set to plead guilty Tuesday to making false statements to federal law enforcement officials, according to a news release issued Monday by the Justice Department. That charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. Puig also agreed to a fine of at least $55,000.

Per a copy of the plea agreement provided to The Washington Post, Puig and his attorney signed off on it in July, and it was filed in August at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The Cuba-born outfielder, who became an American citizen in 2019 — also the year of his most recent MLB season — agreed to a statement of facts that included the following details:

  • Starting no later than May 2019, Puig began making bets with an illegal operation run by a former minor league baseball player named Wayne Nix.
  • By June of that year, Puig owed the operation $282,900 for sports gambling losses. He was instructed to pay $200,000 to another client of the gambling business, identified as “Individual A,” who had racked up at least that much in winnings.
  • Puig purchased two cashiers’ checks worth $100,000 each and, after demanding direct access to websites used by Nix’s operation, mailed the checks to Individual A via UPS.
  • Granted the access he wanted at that point, Puig used the websites to place 899 bets on tennis, football and basketball games between July 4 and Sept. 29, 2019.

In an interview with federal agents Jan. 27 of this year, during which Puig was with his attorney and was informed that lying to them constituted a crime, he was said to have made several false statements. Per the agreement, he denied having discussed sports betting with a person identified as “Agent 1,” who was described as a baseball coach and former college player who worked for Nix’s operation. Agent 1, who was said to have helped Puig prepare for the 2019 season, also served as the go-between for wagers Puig placed with the operation.

“In fact, as defendant then knew [in the interview], defendant discussed sports betting with Agent 1 via telephone and text messages on hundreds of occasions,” prosecutors said of Puig in the agreement.

Puig also acknowledged lying about what he knew regarding his instructions for the cashier’s checks and about what kind of gambling activities led to the expenditure of $200,000.

In March, per the plea agreement, Puig sent another person involved in the case an audio message in which he said of the interview, “I said that I only know [Agent 1] from baseball.”

“When given the opportunity to be truthful about his involvement with Nix’s Gambling businesses, Mr. Puig chose not to,” IRS special agent Tyler Hatcher said in a statement. “Mr. Puig’s lies hindered the legal and procedural tasks of the investigators and prosecutors.”

In an emailed statement to The Post, Puig’s attorney, Keri Curtis Axel, said Puig “takes responsibility for what happened that day [during the interview], but the government’s charging documents don’t tell the whole story. Since the government came forward last June and said they were going to indict him, Mr. Puig has consistently tried to make things right. Under the sentencing guidelines, he will be eligible for probation. He looks forward to putting this chapter behind him.”

From 2021: The secret settlements that helped Yasiel Puig play on

A standout in Cuba who famously endured a harrowing experience while defecting to Mexico, Puig signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 and made it to the major leagues the following year. He was traded to the Cincinnati Reds before the 2019 season and was moved to Cleveland months later in a midseason swap. For his MLB career, Puig batted .277 with a .348 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage, and he hit 132 home runs to go with 415 RBI.

In 2020, Puig was on the verge of signing with the Atlanta Braves for a pandemic-shortened season when he contracted the coronavirus, scuttling the deal. He sat out the season and spent 2021 with a team in the Mexican League. He played for a South Korean team this year.

While in the major leagues, Puig was accused of sexual assault by multiple women and agreed to settlements with them. Early in his career, he was twice arrested for reckless driving, with charges eventually dropped both times.

In March, the Justice Department announced that Nix and other key figures in the illegal gambling operation agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy charges. The investigation by multiple federal agencies also produced an admission by a member of the group of failing to report $1.5 million in income to the IRS. Nix was said to have used his experience in the sports world to build a client list that included current and former professional athletes. His plea agreement, per the government, stated that he received payments for gambling losses from unidentified parties including “a professional football player, a Major League Baseball coach and a baseball analyst.”

The plea agreement Puig signed in July noted that it was read to him in Spanish, the language he understood best. It did not indicate that any of the bets he placed were on baseball.