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MLB Agent Indicted on Human Trafficking Charges

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 23, 2016 10:15 AM

Bart Hernandez, a certified agent by the MLB Players Association, was arrested last week and charged with human trafficking. According to Yahoo's Jeff Passan, a federal grand jury indicted Hernandez on charges relating to the defection of Cuban outfielder Leonya Martin.

Hernandez allegedly smuggled Martin out of Cuba, then held him and his family hostage while negotiating his contract.

From Cuba, With a Price

Stories involving the smuggling of Cuban players into Major League Baseball are becoming all too common. Dodgers star Yasiel Puig was similarly held hostage in a Mexican hotel room while smugglers tried to negotiate payment, and was finally rescued by friends. And Yahoo Sports estimates there are around 350 players from Cuba are in the Dominican Republic seeking work right now.

The indictment in Martin's case, which remains under seal, alleges that Hernandez "did willingly ... and knowingly conspire, confederate, and agree with Eliezer Lazo, Joel Martinez Hernandez, and other persons ... to commit an offense against the United States." Lazo has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion; he and Martinez Hernandez were already serving jail time for Medicare fraud. Bart Hernandez faces up to 20 years in jail on the human trafficking and conspiracy charges.

The Rocky Road to Stardom

According to Martin's civil lawsuit, he decided to defect in 2010 and arranged transportation for himself, his father, his girlfriend, his father's girlfriend, and another friend to Mexico. There, he and his family were intercepted by Lazo and Martinez Hernandez who held them at gunpoint and demanded $2.5 million to get to the United States. Martin signed an agreement with Estrellas del Baseball, a nonexistent front company for Lazo and Martinez Hernandez, agreeing to pay a percentage of his MLB salary, allegedly in exchange for his freedom and that of his family.

The criminal indictment and Martin's lawsuit exposed a dangerous side effect of formerly cold U.S.-Cuba relations. Perhaps now that they've warmed, the path from Cuba to MLB will be safer and more legitimate.

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