September 11, 2014 / 11:15 PM / 3 years ago

Miami man charged with smuggling Cuban baseball star to U.S.

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Miami man was charged on Thursday with alien smuggling for his suspected role in a conspiracy to bring Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Yasiel Puig to the United States from Cuba, according to court documents.

Aug 7, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Yasiel Puig (66) walks off the field after defeating the Los Angeles Angels 7-0 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Gilberto Suarez, 40, allegedly paid $250,000 to smugglers tied to the Los Zetas drug cartel to bring Puig to America in exchange for a cut of his expected Major League Baseball contract.

In 2012, the now 23-year-old Puig signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers.

Federal prosecutors are seeking to get back the money Suarez allegedly earned from the operation, according to the indictment, as well as almost $3 million in real estate and luxury cars.

Suarez was freed on a $120,000 bond on Thursday by a magistrate judge in Florida’s Southern District.

His name emerged in a 2013 lawsuit filed in Miami as one of those said to have helped finance Puig’s 2012 defection from the communist-governed island.

The suit by Miguel Carbacho, who is now jailed in Cuba,alleges that Puig wrongly identified him to Cuban authorities as being involved in another human smuggling plot.

Puig and Suarez first met in 2011 in Mexico City, according to an affidavit filed on behalf of Carbacho by Cuban boxer Yunior Despaigne, who fled the island with Puig.

Once in Mexico, however, “smugglers concluded that Puig would be worth more money and demanded that the Miami investors pay them $400,000, which the backers insisted they did not have,” said Despaigne, adding the smugglers threatened Puig with a machete.

The affidavit said Puig, Despaigne and three others were held for nearly a month in an Isla Mujeres hotel near Cancun, Mexico, before completing their journey to the United States.

Despaigne, who ended up in Miami, said Puig paid more than $1 million to a trio of Miami men, although the smugglers went unpaid, according to the affidavit.

Puig has declined to comment on the allegations by Carbacho and Despaigne and his lawyer has filed a motion to have the suit dismissed.

Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by Peter Cooney

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