U.S.-based Cuban journalist Edmundo Garcia in March 2012 wrote about the problem of Cuban baseball players being caught up with unscrupulous human traffickers in the Dominican Republic, with their ultimate destination the U.S. major leagues. Garcia cited a front page story on March 10, 2012 in the Dominican newspaper Listín Diario entitled “Edgar Mercedes arrested for trafficking Cuban baseball players.”
The particular case involved charges brought against a baseball manager, scout and other suspects accused of forming a human smuggling and trafficking network to bring Cuban baseball players to the Dominican Republic. The Prosecutor for the National District called for legal action to be taken and the case was brought by the National Office for the Prosecution of Complex Crimes, affiliated with the Office of the Attorney General of the Dominican Republic. Assistant District Attorney Milcídades Guzmán asked a judge of the National District to impose bail for trainer Edgar Mercedes and Pedro Delgado Sanchez and order pre-trial detention for Manuel Antonio Azcona, Nilvio Antonio Cruz, Hector Evangelista Ferreira, and Ernesto Vega. They were accused of violating Law 137-03 Trafficking of Persons, the penalty for which can range from a fine to between ten and fifteen years in prison.
The Listín Diario article reported: “The indictment points out that the accused serve as financiers for operations that utilize the services of third parties to carry out the operations and captain the boats that enter the country clandestinely to bring the sportsmen” from Cuba. The aim of this operation was “to put in place contracts or agreements through which they can claim a portion of the earnings these players might have access to if they make it to the U.S. major leagues.”
To pursue its case against Mercedes, Sanchez and the others, the prosecution in the Dominican Republic obtained evidence of human trafficking such as a speedboat, satellite telephones, GPS, navigation charts with coordinates, cell phones, radios and baseball players’ contracts and passports.
Garcia also cites a report on the criminal activities of this human trafficking network by the radio show “El Tapon de Las Cinco” on KV-94.7 FM in the Dominican Republic. The show said that a Cuban national, Raime Martínez Sharon, recruited baseball players from among his fellow countrymen and put them in contact with Manuel Antonio Azcona, known as the head of a human trafficking network.
According to the 75-page dossier quoted on KV-94.7 FM, “The criminal activities of the accused (Azcona) were determined through the intervention of an undercover agent, to whom he made a delivery of cash. Later, he bribed an official in Monte Cristi to allow the boat captained by Antonio Cruz to enter [the Dominican Republic].”
Despite this evidence against the group detained at the Ciudad Nueva courthouse in the Dominican Republic, a replacement judge from another court assigned to their case, Clara Castillo, rejected the request for pretrial detention and the case opened against them for trafficking unlawfully in Cuban baseball players. Judge Castillo freed Edgar Mercedes and Pedro Delgado Sánchez, and imposed bail of 500,000 pesos on Manuel Antonio Azcona and Nilvio Antonio Cruz. Héctor Evangelista Ferreira Infante and Ernesto Vega were released, but had to report periodically to the Office of the Public Prosecutor.
One of the group of accused Cubans and Dominicans, Edgar Mercedes, received the Cuban player Yoenis Céspedes in the Dominican Republic in June 2011, after Céspedes left Cuba illegally in a yacht along with seven of his relatives (mother, sisters, aunts and children).
According to the Listín Diario article, everything was supposedly arranged even before Céspedes left Cuba:
“Edgar Mercedes rented Céspedes a house in Santiago de los Caballeros for $1,500 and paid all his expenses for months, including the cost to obtain legal residence in the Dominican Republic. He reportedly also got Céspedes a visa so he could travel to the United States and attend training in Oakland [California]. Céspedes played for the Aguilas Cibaeñas before signing a U.S. $36 million four-year contract in the United States with the Oakland Athletics. From the first payment of his contract of $6 million Céspedes was supposed to send a payment to his ‘agent’ from the Dominican Republic, but the player didn’t do that.”
García writes that the rest of this story, “has nothing to do with the laws of a country, but with the rules of a mafia.” ESPN reported on May 1, 2012 that Edgar Mercedes had filed an arbitration claim for breach of contract against Yoenis Céspedes for not handing over the first instalment of the 17 per cent he was supposed to pay on his total earnings from his contract with the Oakland Athletics.
Mercedes told ESPN in a phone interview: “Yoenis has not complied with the agreement, which obliges us to resort to Dominican law to force him to do it… I regret having to do this, but you must set an example. […] Since Cespedes joined the A’s, he stopped taking our calls, he didn’t respond to our messages and his financial adviser, Anthony Fernandez, informed us that at this time, he does not have any scheduled payment for us.”
Mercedes said the Cuban player’s family, who had remained in the Dominican Republic, had disappeared. Garcia writes, “He said he didn’t know their whereabouts, or if they were inside or outside the country, which means he was looking for them. He accused them of emptying the house — the furniture was included in the rent — in other words calling them thieves. Mercedes, who also served as Cuban baseball player Yunesky Maya’s godfather in the Dominican Republic, declared on ‘La Semana Deportiva’ that all Cuban baseball players were ungrateful.”
(Quotations translated from original Spanish by TML Weekly, August 1, 2015)