The U.S. Department of Justice’s Central District of California announced Monday that former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig had agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of lying to federal law enforcement officials about his bets on sporting events with an illegal gambling operation.
According to a press release, by June 2019 Puig owed $282,900 to an illegal gambling operation run by Wayne Joseph Nix of Newport Coast, California. On April 11, Nix pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 8.
As for Puig, he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for lying to federal investigators about his relationship to an associate of Nix’s identified in court papers as “Agent 1.” Despite being warned that lying to federal agents is a crime, the 31-year-old Cuban native, who currently plays professional baseball in South Korea, told them he’d never discussed sports betting with Agent 1, when in fact they’d discussed such wagering “hundreds of times on the telephone and via text message,” according to the release.
Puig also lied about the nature of $200,000 in cashiers’ checks he purchased to pay off his gambling debts, and sent another individual an audio message through WhatsApp in which he admitted to lying to the feds in the aforementioned interview. He is due to make his initial appearance in district court Tuesday.
“When given the opportunity to be truthful about his involvement with Nix’s gambling businesses, Mr. Puig chose not to,” Special Agent Tyler Hatcher said in the press release. “Mr. Puig’s lies hindered the legal and procedural tasks of the investigators and prosecutors.”
Nearly 900 bets in less than three months
The press release went on to note that from July 4-Sept. 29, 2019, Puig placed 899 bets on tennis, football, and basketball through websites operated by Nix. The release did not say that Puig bet on baseball during that span, which saw him split the season — his last in Major League Baseball — between Cincinnati and Cleveland. If that were the case, Puig would have been in direct violation of MLB’s sports betting policy, which strictly prohibits wagering on baseball.
Even if he didn’t bet on baseball, Puig violated MLB’s ban on illegal betting, which states: “Baseball personnel may not place illegal bets on any sport or event, including bets placed with illegal bookmakers or illegal off-shore sports betting websites or applications.” Current league rules allow players to “place legal bets on sports other than baseball or softball in jurisdictions in which sports betting is legal.”
Sports betting is against the law in California, where two propositions to legalize such wagering — which is permitted in over half the country — were resoundingly rejected by the state’s voters last week.
A flashy, powerful ballplayer who excelled defensively, Puig’s star burned brightly in his first few years as a Dodger. But by 2018, the strikeout- and injury-prone slugger had worn out his welcome in Los Angeles, and in recent years he had struggled with legal and financial issues as he attempted to play his way back into the majors.
Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY