ARLINGTON -- The U.S. attorney's office in Miami, Fla., on Wednesday charged three people with conspiring to smuggle, kidnap and extort Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin three years ago, according to a report by The Miami Herald.
Charged were Eliezer Lazo, 40, formerly of Miami Lakes; Joel Martinez Hernandez, 37, formerly of Miami-Dade; and Yilian Hernandez, 30, of Hialeah. The accusations against them date to 2010, when Martin defected from his native Cuba to Mexico and then moved to the United States to play Major League Baseball.
The three suspects are also charged with smuggling 13 other Cuban baseball prospects to the U.S. Yilian Hernandez, arrested by Homeland Security and FBI agents, was scheduled to appear in federal court Thursday. Lazo and Martinez are currently serving respective prison sentences of five and seven years for 2012 money-laundering convictions related to Medicare fraud.
In announcing the case in a news release, prosecutors cited a civil lawsuit filed by Estrellas del Beisbol, but provided few details, according to the Herald.
The Mexican company, in which Lazo and Martinez were allegedly partners, claims it became Martin's management agency after he was smuggled into Mexico. Estrellas del Beisbol filed a lawsuit against Martin last year in Broward County Circuit Court, claiming he violated his contract by failing to pay the company up to 30 percent of his salary from his multiyear deal with the Rangers.
Martin signed a five-year, $15.5 million contract with Texas in May 2011. He has since declined to talk about the circumstances by which he left Cuba and made his way to the U.S.
In a countersuit, Martin accused Lazo, Martinez and others of an "illegal scheme" involving smuggling him and his family out of Cuba into Mexico and holding all of them "hostage" until Martin obtained a Major League contract and could pay them a "ransom."
The following year, Martin said in his counterclaim that he wired $1.35 million to Estrellas but that "the payment was made out of fear for himself and his family, not with any intention of validating" his management agreement with the Mexican company. Estrellas is seeking another $825,000 from Martin.
According to Estrellas' breach-of-contract suit, Martin was signed in 2010 by the Mexican company, which agreed to provide training, food, housing and sports clothing. In exchange, it says that Martin agreed to pay 35 percent of any future professional baseball earnings to Estrellas -- a figure it says was later reduced by five percent as a side fee to Martin's agent, Bartolo Hernandez. Estrellas said in its suit that Martin paid the company $1.2 million, but claims he still owes $450,000 for 2011 and an additional $375,000 for 2012.
Martin's lawyer, Paul H. Minoff, said in the counterclaim that Martin signed the agreement under duress. The counterclaim describes Estrellas as a "nonexistent entity that serves as a front for illegal activity, such as human smuggling and trafficking, kidnapping and extortion."
Martin said that while he was in the "involuntary custody of his kidnappers," specifically naming Lazo and Martinez, he was given food, clothing and shelter as well as "intermittent opportunities to practice baseball." He also said his family was provided similar support.
But Martin claims Estrellas' operators held him "against his will" in Mexico while his family "remained hostages" at Lazo's home in Miami-Dade.
Martin also said that "Bart" Hernandez was introduced to him as a baseball agent who could assist him in obtaining a Major League contract.
"However, at no time was there any negotiation with anyone, and Martin did not voluntarily agree to have [Bart] Hernandez represent him or sign any agreement of any nature with [him]," the counterclaim says.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.