Feds charge agent with smuggling Cuban players

Updated: November 1, 2006, 10:03 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MIAMI -- An agent for baseball players illegally smuggled Cuban players into the United States, eventually shipping them to California in hopes that they would be signed by major league teams, federal immigration officials said Tuesday.

The agent, Gustavo "Gus" Dominguez, is charged with paying four aides to transport the athletes and other Cubans to the U.S. in two trips from the island nation. Dominguez, of California-based Total Sports International, has represented several Cuban baseball defectors, including Andy Morales, who was signed by the New York Yankees and later the Boston Red Sox after fleeing Cuba six years ago.

Also charged in the 53-count federal indictment were Geoffrey Rodrigues, Robert Yosvany Hernandez, Ramon Batista and Guillermo Valdez.

"Though this case involves a Beverly Hills sports agent and talented baseball players, it is remarkably similar to the human smuggling operations that ICE encounters every day," Julie Myers, an assistant secretary of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement. "The ringleaders put the lives of illegal immigrants at risk and sought to profit from their labor."

When reached by ESPN's Mike Fish, Steve Schneider, a partner of Dominguez at Total Sports, said, "The answer is I have no comment. Gus has counsel and he's dealing with the matter. Right now nothing can be said other than no comment . . . For me to say anything right now would be inappropriate. These are allegations. That is all. When things are clarified there might be things to say."

Dominguez's assistant, who would not give his full name, said Total Sports would not comment and he wouldn't clarify the relationship of the four other defendants or whether they worked for the company. A message left on Dominguez's voicemail was not immediately returned.

Greg Bouris, spokesman for the players association, said he was unaware of the story and thus had no comment.

It was not known whether any of the defendants had obtained lawyers.

Prosecutors say Rodrigues and Dominguez traveled by boat to Cuba on July 28, 2004, and loaded 22 Cubans aboard, but were intercepted by U.S. authorities at sea. Less than a month later, on Aug. 22, 2004, authorities say the two men successfully brought 19 Cubans into the country.

According to the indictment, the defendants transported the athletes to Los Angeles by van, rented an apartment for them, provided them with food and clothing and began training them. It could not be immediately determined if any of the Cubans have been signed by major league teams.

All five men are charged with conspiracy to bring immigrants illegally into the United States, transporting them in violation of the law and concealing and harboring them from detection.

Dominguez, Rodrigues and Hernandez are also charged with immigrant smuggling; Dominguez, Batista and Valdez face a charge of transporting, concealing and harboring from detection illegal immigrants; and Rodrigues is accused of assaulting ICE agents when his boat was intercepted.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.