By: Mario GOLuza
In June 2014, Florida Gov. Rick Scott enacted a law requiring MLB teams to negotiate directly with Cuban players who wanted to be eligible for tax breaks in an effort to prevent human-trafficking which was reflected in Los Angeles Dodgers Yasiel Puig’s case. However, like any other bill, strings were attached; something MLB agent Bartolo Hernandez is finding out the hard way.
Hernandez, who represents numerous Cuban-born MLB players including White Sox All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu, has been indicted on two charges of helping smuggle players in from Cuba, according to the Florida courts on Friday. Hernandez allegedly conspired with at least two other men in trafficking baseball players “for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain.” If guilty, Hernandez faces forfeiture of $1.5 million and any benefits he may have reaped in contracts relating to players referred to in the indictment.
The indictment also links Hernandez to convicted smuggler Eliezer Lazo, who is serving a 14-year prison sentence, and Joel Martinez Hernandez (no relation), who assisted Lazo and is currently serving time for Medicare fraud.
In response to the allegations, Jeffrey E. Marcus (Hernandez’ attorney) stated: “As we will show at trial, Bart Hernandez is a talented and ethical sports agent who has always done right by his clients. Bart is innocent and the charges are baseless.”
Under MLB laws, a Cuban player who comes to the U.S. directly would have to enter the league’s amateur draft. This process can cost upwards of millions of dollars. However, if the player first establishes residency in another country, he may sign with any team as a free agent. Hernandez was attempting to bypass the “amateur draft” process by using this bill as a “loophole” for his Cuban players.
What does this mean?
Although Gov. Scott had the right intentions in taking preventative measures regarding human trafficking, Cuban players remain in a burdensome situation entering the MLB. So the question really is “How effective is this law?” Well, awaiting the Florida court’s decision, we will soon find out.