Feds Indict Three for Smuggling Cuban Baseball Prospects into U.S. and Holding Them Hostage
Baseball is America's pastime. But it's also an international business that sucks in scores of foreign-born players every year. Behind that business are men who secret ballplayers into the United States in exchange for a slice of their future earnings.
This side of baseball tends to remain in the shadows. Every once in a while, however, an arrest or a lawsuit peals back the lid on this lucrative smuggling industry.
That's what happened yesterday when Feds announced an indictment against three Cubans for trafficking their fellow countrymen into the U.S. and keeping at least one baseball star hostage until he paid up.
See also: Cuban Baseball Agents: Risks and Lies
Federal prosecutors announced yesterday that they were charging Eliezer Lazo, 40, Joel Martinez Hernandez, 37, and Yilian Hernandez, 30, for alien smuggling, extortion, and kidnapping conspiracy.
The announcement made a passing reference to a company called Estrellas del Beisbol (Baseball Stars).
Human smuggling is nothing new in South Florida. In October, four Haitian women died off the shore of Miami while trying to reach the U.S. in a boat that capsized.
But court records and news clippings reveal that Lazo, Martinez, and Hernandez were more than ordinary Caribbean coyotes. They were key players in a tri-national smuggling operation that stocks the Major Leagues with Cuban peloteros.
Lazo -- who has been arrested for battery and burglary but never convicted of a felony -- was first busted for human smuggling back in 2008. He and an accomplice were stopped by the Coast Guard with five passengers aboard their boat as they tried enter the U.S. from the Bahamas.
He pled guilty and started serving an 18-month sentence on July 2, 2009.
In February of 2010, however, Lazo incorporated Estrellas del Beisbol Corp here in the state of Florida -- apparently while still inside federal prison.
Around the same time, Martinez and Hernandez were setting up a similar company in Mexico.