Human Smugglers Accused of Extorting Cuban Baseball Players

Eric Reynoso (Café Fuerte)

Texas Rangers player Leonys Martin involved in legal proceedings in Miami.
Texas Rangers player Leonys Martin involved in legal proceedings in Miami.

HAVANA TIMES — This past Wednesday, US federal authorities cracked down on a human contraband network implicated in the kidnapping and extortion of Cuban baseball players. The perpetrators were also allegedly involved in the South Florida Medicare fraud.

On Thursday, the Miami District Attorney’s Office accused 40-year-old, former Miami Lakes resident Eliezer Lazo, 37-year-old Miami-Dade resident Joel Martinez Hernandez and 30-year-old Hialeah resident Yilian Hernandez of conspiracy to carry out human trafficking and of kidnapping and extorting Texas Rangers player Leonys Martin, born in Villa Clara, Cuba.

According to a communiqué issued by the Attorney General’s Office, Yilian Hernandez was arrested by federal officers in the Miami-Dade county on Wednesday morning. She was to appear before Judge Edwin Torres at a Miami court on Thursday.

The other two alleged culprits, Lazo and Martinez, are already serving five and seven-year prison terms after being found guilty of money laundering in acts of fraud aimed at embezzling the state’s Medicare program.

Disgraceful Acts

It appears that the Medicare fraud is now also tainted by human contraband, extortion and the illegal transportation of Cuban baseball players wishing to play in the Major Leagues.

The criminal charges aren’t exclusively related to Martin, the Cuban-born baseball player who deserted Cuba’s national selection in Taiwan in 2010. The three individuals implicated are also being accused of smuggling some additional 13 Cuban baseball players into the country, after taking them out of Cuba illegally via Mexico.

Mexico and the Dominican Republic are the routes most commonly used by baseball players fleeing Cuba, chasing the dream of playing in the US Major Leagues.

Martin, who signed a US $15.5 million Major League contract in 2011, made headlines owing to the communiqué issued by the Attorney General’s Office, which made mention of a lawsuit brought before a Broward County court last year by the Mexican firm Estrellas del Beisbol (“Baseball Stars”).

Curiously, Lazo and Martinez were shareholders at Estrellas del Beisbol. The lawsuit claimed that Martin had not honored a previous contract signed upon his arrival in Mexico, through which he had committed to pay 30 percent of his earnings as payment for services received in the country.

Relatives Taken Hostage

Martin’s legal representatives, however, turned the tables on the Mexican firm and accused the claimants of smuggling people out of Cuba and of taking the baseball player’s relatives hostage until such time as he secured the Major League contract and was able to pay the ransom requested.

In his counter-suit, Martin claims to have paid Estrellas del Beisbol US $1.35 million to avoid reprisals against his family.

Martin’s lawyers deny that Estrellas del Beisbol is a sports academy that takes in and trains amateur players wishing to make it to the Major Leagues, identifying it rather as a front for a criminal organization responsible for illegal activities such as human smuggling, kidnapping and blackmail.

Reportedly, the organization lodged and fed Martin upon his arrival in Mexico. The baseball player, however, claims he was kept there against his will, while his captors awaited the signing of a Major League contract. In the meantime, his relatives were kept hostage in a house in Miami owned by Lazo.

Lazo and Martinez are currently under the custody of the Prisons Bureau. They are to appear before a Miami court to hear these new criminal charges.

The case is in the hands of federal prosecutors H. Ron Davidson and Evelyn B. Sheehan. The accused could receive a life sentence if found guilty.

3 thoughts on “Human Smugglers Accused of Extorting Cuban Baseball Players

  • What is an EX-Cuban?

  • On the return trip to San Francisco from Cuba with my wife, we met a Cuban man who claimed to be involved in the recruitment of Yoenis Cespedes to the Oakland A’s. Sports agents, in general, have never had the best reputation and this guy seemed like he fit right in with the slick-talking image that fits the stereotype. He approached us because he said he recognized my wife from Cuban TV news and because of my skin color and physical dimensions, mistook me for a former Industriales ballplayer. He was bragging to us about his ‘other’ businesses and that HELPING Cuban ballplayers escape to the US was something he did on the side out of the goodness of his heart. As soon as he learned that my wife worked for CNN, he quit talking and moved to the other side of the waiting area.

  • I’m shocked…SHOCKED! to read that the ex-Cubans in Florida and elsewhere would be accused of criminality .
    Those brave people who fled the communist/Communist oppression in Cuba are merely living up to the the American Dream of getting rich by preying on the poor and disadvantaged and should be praised to the heavens for their economic acumen.
    It seems the Miami ex-patriot community does have a thing about holding people against their will (remember Elian Gonzalez?) but if looked at from another perspective, just think how much better off those held in Miami are than living under communist slavery in Cuba.
    I also remember how a great many of those whom the U.S. said were political prisoners and subsequently released by the Cubans and who went to the U.S. in the Mariel Boatlift were later accused of being petty /serious criminals exactly as claimed by the lying Cuban government.
    I think there is a conspiracy to make those who fled the horrific torture of the communists seem to be morally deficient for dealing in human trafficking
    Gotta go now and remove my tongue from my cheek.
    Moses can thank me later for writing his post for him.

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