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Ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig faces new federal charge in case linked to sports gambling probe

A baseball player takes a knee in the outfield and looks up toward the video screen.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig watches the video screen during a play review in Game 3 of the 2018 World Series at Dodger Stadium.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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Former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who last year withdrew from an agreement to plead guilty to lying to federal authorities in a sports gambling investigation, indicated he will fight the charges at trial after pleading not guilty Friday morning in a downtown Los Angeles courthouse.

After reneging on the plea agreement, Puig, 32, now faces a charge of obstruction of justice in addition to the original charge of making false statements to federal officials, according to a superseding indictment.

For the record:

12:10 p.m. Feb. 10, 2023A previous version of this story said Puig would be arraigned on two counts of making false statements and one count of obstruction of justice. He faces one count of each.

In November, the Cuban-born baseball player had agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements and agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000. He would have been eligible for probation under the agreement.

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But weeks later, Puig withdrew from the plea deal.

“I want to clear my name,” Puig said in a Nov. 30 statement. “I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”

Yasiel Puig has withdrawn from an agreement to plead guilty to a charge of lying to federal investigators about his involvement in sports betting.

Nov. 30, 2022

As part of the original plea deal, federal prosecutors had agreed not to pursue a charge of obstruction of justice.

Federal prosecutors moved forward with both charges after Puig refused to plead guilty in November, in spite of the previous agreement. Puig pleaded not guilty to both counts Friday at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building.

If convicted of obstruction of justice, Puig could face up to 10 years in prison. The count of making false statements carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

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Puig’s attorney, Keri Axel, criticized the additional charge recently filed against Puig, calling the federal case against him an “unfair prosecution.” The new charge, she said in a statement to The Times, was not due to additional allegations against him, but based on the same interview Puig had given to federal officials.

“We are disappointed that the United States Attorney’s Office has further entrenched itself in its unfair prosecution of Yasiel Puig,” she said in the statement. “By adding the additional count, they are seeking to punish Puig for exercising his Constitutional rights and asserting the truth — that he is not guilty.”

Judge Pedro V. Castillo set a trial date for April 25.

Federal authorities had been investigating an illegal sports gambling operation run by Wayne Nix, a former minor-league baseball player who lives in Newport Beach, when Puig allegedly lied in interviews about his involvement, according to the initial plea agreement.

According to federal prosecutors, Puig lied when he told investigators in a Jan. 27, 2022, interview that he had never discussed betting with an unnamed agent working for Nix, described in the plea deal only as “a former collegiate baseball player and private baseball coach.” In fact, the government alleges, Puig had incurred debt of more than $280,000 on sports bets placed with that agent in the first half of 2019.

After paying off part of the debt, the government alleges, Puig made “899 bets on tennis, football, and basketball games” through an offshore website connected to Nix’s ring.

There is no evidence in the plea agreement that Puig, who played for the Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians in his Major League Baseball career, bet on baseball.

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Puig’s agent, Lisette Carnet, said Puig and his attorneys have unsuccessfully attempted to share exculpatory evidence to federal prosecutors.

“We are dumbfounded as to why the [U.S. Attorney’s Office] would prefer to spend taxpayer dollars without attempting to look at our evidence,” Carnet said in the statement.

Five men agree to plead guilty to federal crimes in illicit California gambling ring that took bets from professional athletes and a sports broadcaster.

March 31, 2022

Axel said in a November statement that “significant new evidence” had prompted the withdrawal from the plea agreement. Axel did not say in the statement what that new evidence might be, and she told The Times through a spokesman: “We are prepared to publicly share that information in the appropriate forum and at the appropriate time.”

However, in a court hearing earlier that month, she suggested that messages left for Puig by the unnamed agent and his associate raised the possibility that Puig might have been entrapped.

Of the Zoom interview in which Puig is alleged to have lied to investigators, Axel said: “Mr. Puig, who has a third-grade education, had untreated mental-health issues, and did not have his own interpreter or criminal legal counsel with him.”

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Times staff writer Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.

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