Former Major League Baseball player Yasiel Puig has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge for lying to federal law enforcement officials about bets on sporting events he placed with an illegal gambling operation.
The information comes from court documents unsealed Monday, per press release from the Department of Justice at the U.S. Attorney?s Office in the Central District of California. The guilty plea is for one count of making false statements, which is a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
For those who may not remember Puig, the 31-year-old played in the MLB for seven years, having last played for the Cincinnati Reds and the then Cleveland Indians in the 2019 season. The former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder did not sign with a team in 2020, and he played with El Águila de Veracruz of the Mexican League in 2021. He signed with the Kiwoom Heroes of the KBO league in 2022.
Puig was known as an eccentric player on the diamond, but he has been no stranger to legal controversy. Before his MLB career, Puig attempted many times to defect from Cuba to Mexico — a situation that has been well documented over the years.
In 2021, MLB investigators had interviewed a woman who said Puig had sexually assaulted her in a Staples Center bathroom during a Los Angeles Lakers game in October 2018. Puig announced he settled that lawsuit, but the 31-year-old had secretly settled a lawsuit raised by two women who claimed Puig sexually assaulted them in January 2017.
On Monday, Puig agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000 and to make his initial appearance on Nov. 15 in United States District Court.
“Under our system of justice, no one is above the law,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said, per press release. “The integrity of our nation’s criminal justice system depends on people telling the truth, and those who fail to abide by this simple principal must face consequences.”
“When given the opportunity to be truthful about his involvement with (Wayne Joseph) Nix’s Gambling businesses, Mr. Puig chose not to,” IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher said, per press release. “Mr. Puig’s lies hindered the legal and procedural tasks of the investigators and prosecutors.”
The plea agreement was filed on Aug. 29, and it said in May 2019, Puig began placing bets on sporting events through a third party, who was identified in court documents as “Agent 1,” who worked on behalf of an illegal gambling business run by Nix, 46, of Newport Coast.
Puig called and sent text messages to Agent 1 with wagers on sporting events. Agent 1 then submitted the bets to the Nix gambling business on Puig’s behalf. By June 2019, Puig owed Nix’s gambling business $282,900 for sports gambling losses.
After Puig paid the near $300,000 in debt, Nix provided Puig direct access to the betting websites. From July 4, 2019 to Sept. 29, 2019, the former MLB outfielder placed 899 additional bets on tennis, football and basketball games.
In Jan. 2022, federal investigators interviewed the 31-year-old in the presence of his lawyer. During the interview, despite being warned lying to federal agents is a crime, Puig lied several times. During the interview, he falsely stated he only knew Agent 1 from baseball and he never discussed gambling with him, when in fact Puig discussed sports betting with Agent 1 hundreds of times on the telephone and via text message.
How things play out in court will be a wait-and-see, but unlike Calvin Ridley, who bet on NFL games while as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, he will be eligible to play in the 2023-24 season — Puig’s MLB career is likely over due to his gambling activities.