Former Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star Yasiel Puig has withdrawn his guilty plea in the case related to charges for lying to federal agents who were investigating an illegal gambling operation.
Earlier this month, Puig pled guilty to the charges after he was interviewed by federal law enforcement agents regarding bets he placed on sporting events with an illegal gambling operation run by an individual named Wayne Nix.
Cuban-born Puig agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements, an offense for which he could face up to five years in federal prison.
However, after “significant new evidence”, Puig withdrew this agreement and changed his plea to not guilty. He was eligible for probation under his plea agreement but has instead decided to fight the allegations.
“I want to clear my name,” Puig said. “I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”
New evidence in Puig case
Puig’s attorney, Keri Axel of Waymaker LLP, is now in discussions with the US government about the new evidence.
“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,” Axel said. “We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel.”
The charge stems from an investigation into a sports gambling operation run by Nix, a former minor-league baseball player. Puig, who currently is a right fielder for the Kiwoom Heroes in South Korea, placed bets in 2019 through a third party and did not interact with Nix.
However, by June, Puig owed Nix’s operation $282,900 in gambling losses. Through agents working for the ring, Puig was ordered to make a check or wire transfer to a client of the business who was owed at least $200,000 in winnings.
Puig paid his debts and continued to gamble using the operation’s betting website. From 4 July 2019 to 29 September 2019, he placed 899 additional bets on tennis, football and basketball games.
As part of a probe of Nix’s operation, federal investigators interviewed the former baseball player in the presence of his lawyer. The Department of Justice said that during the course of this session, Puig lied several times about the nature of his involvement from the operation.
According to the Department, Puig was untruthful about his connections with figures associated with the ring, as well as the mechanisms of how he gambled, and admitted in Whatsapp audio messages that he had to federal law enforcement agents.
Nix pleaded guilty in April this year to one count of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return. Four other men also pled guilty to federal charges in the Nix case.
Federal authorities said a number of professional athletes placed wagers with Nix, but Puig is the only athlete who has so far been targeted by authorities.