Yasiel Puig Pulls Out Of Plea Deal Regarding Illegal Gambling

Written By Katarina Vojvodic on December 1, 2022
investigation gambling yasiel puig plea deal

Yasiel Puig decided to withdraw his agreement to plead guilty to a charge of lying to federal investigators probing an illegal gambling ring in Southern California.

The former Major League Baseball outfielder, currently playing for the Kiwoom Heroes, is changing his plea to not guilty because of “significant new evidence.” His lawyers released a statement on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Though Puig was eligible for probation under his plea agreement, he decided to fight the accusations.

Puig said in a statement:

“I want to clear my name. I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”

To be clear, Puig has already admitted to taking part in illegal Ohio sports betting. Puig played for both Cincinnati and Cleveland during the 2019 season before becoming a free agent. The charge he faces now stems from allegedly false statements he made to FBI agents regarding that illegal gambling, not the gambling itself.

Significant new evidence encouraged the change in plea

In mid-November, Puig had agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements to federal investigators. At the time, the investigators were probing an illegal gambling ring in Southern California. Those statements occurred during a Zoom interview in January 2022 and referred to betting that took place in 2019.

Puig’s attorney, Keri Axel of Waymaker LLP, said “significant new evidence” has come to light that encouraged the change in plea. Axel is currently in negotiations with the government regarding that evidence.

She said:

“At the time of his January 2022 interview, Mr. Puig, who has a third-grade education, had untreated mental-health issues, and did not have his own interpreter or criminal legal counsel with him. We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel.”

Axel also emphasized that prominent civil rights attorney, Lawrence Middleton, has joined Puig’s legal team as a consultant. He was one of four attorneys who prosecuted the federal civil rights trial of LAPD officers in the Rodney King case. Middleton also served as Chief of the LA United States Attorney’s Office’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.

False statement charge stems from operation run by Wayne Nix

The charge against Puig stems from an investigation into a sports gambling operation run by Wayne Nix. Nix was a former minor-league baseball player.

In an August plea agreement, Puig admitted that in 2019 he lost nearly $280,000 while betting on tennis, football and basketball. According to federal records, Puig made at least 899 sports bets through an illegal operator based in Southern California. At the time, he placed bets through a third party and allegedly did not interact with Nix.

Nix pleaded guilty on April 11 to one count of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return. Four other men were also involved in the Nix case and pled guilty to federal charges. It’s unclear to what extent Nix’s operation involved any illegal Ohio gambling operations.

Prosecutors said the Nix operation, which ran for two decades, involved many professional athletes as clients or employees. Puig has been the only professional athlete targeted by authorities so far.

Photo by AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
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Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina Vojvodic is a lead writer for PlayUSA who lives in Toronto. Vojvodic provides coverage of the US gambling industry with a focus on US online casinos. Previously, she covered Ontario’s online gambling industry for PlayCanada.com. Vojvodic holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Belgrade. Outside working hours, she can be found near the water with her husband and their two kids.

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