KEY WEST, Fla. -- A sports agent was convicted Thursday of smuggling potential major league-caliber baseball players out of Cuba and harboring them in the United States for profit.
Gustavo "Gus" Dominguez, a co-founder of California-based Total Sports International Inc., was charged in October in what was thought to be the first indictment accusing a prominent sports agent of smuggling big-league baseball prospects out of Cuba.
The Cuban-born Dominguez, who has represented dozens of Cuban defectors and other major league players, denied any wrongdoing during his seven-day trial. But a federal jury found him guilty of conspiracy to smuggle five ballplayers from Cuba to the Florida Keys.
According to trial evidence, Dominguez then had the illegal immigrants transported to California, where they were harbored pending an expected windfall from lucrative future sports contracts.
Dominguez, 48, faces up to five years in prison for his conviction on the smuggling conspiracy charge plus up to 10 years each for 20 separate smuggling convictions. He was free on bond pending sentencing on July 9.
Jurors acquitted co-defendant Roberto Yosvany Hernandez of six counts of conspiracy and alien smuggling. Two other original co-defendants of Dominguez reached plea agreements before the trial.
Dominguez's attorney, J. Stephen Salter, said they would appeal the convictions.
Evidence against Dominguez included $225,000 in payments to purported drug trafficker and Cuban smuggler Ysbel Medina.
Medina, a witness for the prosecution, said the payments were to finance the smuggling operation.
Dominguez's business partner, Steve Schneider, said afterward, "I am shocked because I believe the facts will not support that verdict."
Operations that illegally transport Cubans from their communist-ruled island to Florida are commonplace, and shipping people on the 90-mile trip across the Florida Straits can be highly profitable.
But the Dominguez case was believed to be the first directly linking smuggling with the business of baseball, which is Cuba's national sport as well as America's national pastime.
Dominguez helped organize two smuggling trips across the Florida Straits in 2004, federal prosecutors said. The first one failed; the second succeeded with the ballplayers reaching Big Pine Key.
Among the group that came in 2004 were Osbek Castillo, a pitcher with the Arizona Diamondbacks' Double-A team in Alabama, and Francisely Bueno, a pitcher with the Atlanta Braves' Double-A affiliate in Mississippi.
Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.