Former Dodger Yasiel Puig alleges anti-Black bias behind the criminal charges

LOS ANGELES, CA - February 11, 2023: Former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, center, speaks at a news conference outside Federal Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, February 11, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA.  (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, center, speaks at a news conference outside federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles Saturday. (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

When an Internal Revenue Service agent first questioned former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig as part of a sports gambling investigation, the agent opened with a stern warning: If you lie, you will be charged. of a federal crime.

That aggressive stance, Puig’s lawyers said in court, remained until investigators abruptly ended the interview when Puig asked to review old documents to jog his memory.

Puig and his defense team pointed to this and federal authorities’ alleged dealings with other black individuals involved in the case as evidence of racial bias. They argue that the white defendants in the case were treated more benignly and their credibility has not been called into question.

Puig, who backed out of a deal last year to plead guilty to lying to federal authorities in the investigation, indicated at a news conference Saturday that he will fight the charges at trial after pleading not guilty Friday morning in a downtown courthouse of Los Angeles.

“They didn’t take into account his cultural background, his personal experiences or even his ability to understand the process,” Puig’s agent, Lisette Carnet of the Leona Sports Agency, said at the press conference. “She was given an interview and during that interview, when she tried to rehabilitate her statement after further recall, they shut it down.”

She was joined on the steps of the downtown federal court by Puig’s attorneys Keri Curtis Axel and Benjamin Crump. Puig, who was also present, read a statement in his native Spanish.

Crump, a civil rights lawyer who has built a national reputation representing victims of police violence, said he joined the case because he wanted to continue to hold “a mirror in the face of America to show the bias” inherent in the judicial system.

After withdrawing from his plea deal, 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 substitute indictment.

In one example of the prejudice Puig faced, his lawyers cited in court documents an unnamed employee of a sports gambling operation, Sand Islands Sports, who made “demonstrably false” statements about his communications with Puig, but was not booked by federal agents. The federal investigation is said to involve other high-profile athletes, but parts of the case are under protective orders.

According to federal prosecutors, Puig lied when he told investigators in a January 27, 2022 interview that he had never discussed betting on sports events with an unnamed employee who worked at an illegal gambling business operated by a another defendant, Wayne Joseph Nix. In fact, the government claims, Puig had incurred more than $280,000 in debt on sports bets placed with that agent in the first half of 2019.

Puig, the filing said, suffers from PTSD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder that made it difficult for him to recall years-old details about “certain check payments.” His lawyers said his limited formal education — he has the equivalent of a third-grade education after being sent to Cuba’s government-run baseball academy at age 9 — also made it difficult for him understand what was being asked of him.

Axel, a former federal prosecutor in Southern California, said he asked the U.S. attorney’s office for documents “regarding the office’s patterns and practices,” including any implicit bias training it provides to prosecutors. and the prosecution decisions I’ve made in this and other previous cases.” He said the recent motion was the first step in filing a formal motion to dismiss the case.

A hearing to address the matter is tentatively set for March 15.

A spokesman for the US attorney’s office said Saturday night that prosecutors would respond to the motion through court records, and declined to comment otherwise.

Times staff writer Salvador Hernandez contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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