This week a baseball trainer and a sports agent in Florida pleaded not guilty in US federal court to charges linked to the smuggling of top Cuban baseball talent out of the island nation and into the US.
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.
Estrada is free on $225,000 bail. Hernandez is also free on bond.
Prosecutors said a third suspect, identified as Haitian national Amin Latouff, remained at large. No trial dates have been announced.
The smuggling ring accumulated more than $15 million by helping players leave the communist island in secretive ventures that included phony documents, false identities and surreptitious boat voyages to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, federal prosecutors say.
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.
MLB is in talks on a potential deal that could make it easier for Cuban ballplayers to play in the US without having to engage in risky defections or murky smugglers.