Agent, Trainer Convicted in Cuban Baseball Player Smuggling Case

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2017

Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, center, leaves federal court during a break, Wednesday, March 1, 2017 in Miami. Abreu has told a Miami federal jury he ate part of a fake passport while flying to the U.S. to cover up his illegal travel as part of a Cuban ballplayer smuggling operation. The testimony came in the trial of agent Bartolo Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada, who are accused of alien smuggling and conspiracy. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

Sports agent Bartolo Hernandez and baseball trainer Julio Estrada were convicted by a jury Wednesday for smuggling Cuban baseball players into the United States. 

Per Curt Anderson of the Associated Press, a Miami jury issued the verdict to convict Hernandez and Estrada after they were "indicted on conspiracy and alien smuggling charges for an operation that began in 2009 and involved a number of high-profile Major League Baseball players." 

Hernandez is a sports agent whose client list included Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. Estrada is a trainer who lives in the Miami area.

During the six-week trial, testimony from people within the smuggling ring said Hernandez and Estrada were overseeing the process of smuggling people from Cuba to Mexico before using the baseball players for financial gain, per Anderson:

The players would be whisked from Cuba to Mexico or Haiti in a speedboat, sign papers claiming residency in their new country and eventually be cleared to sign with MLB teams. Prosecutors showed jurors how many of those documents contained false information, such as made-up jobs for players, and some travel documents were forged.

Abreu testified on Mar. 1 that he destroyed a fake passport by eating pages out of it during a flight to Miami, per Paula McMahon of the Chicago Tribune.

"I went back to my seat, I ordered a beer—a Heineken beer—and then, little by little, I swallowed that first page of the passport," Abreu said during the testimony through an interpreter.

Seattle Mariners center fielder Leonys Martin said during his testimony that there was an attempt to kidnap him in Mexico when men "who claimed to be armed broke into his apartment with a crowbar," per Anderson. 

Hernandez and Estrada denied the smuggling charges when the trial began in February.