Feds: Agent smuggled players from Cuba

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
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."
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.
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.
n ASTROS: Jeff Bagwell's $18 million option was declined by Houston Tuesday, who will give their career home run and RBIs leader a $7 million buyout to complete an $85 million, five-year contract.
The 38-year-old Bagwell missed last season because of an arthritic right shoulder, and the Astros tried to recoup about $15.6 million in insurance.
"It doesn't mean anything at all," Bagwell told KRIV-TV in Houston. "Everyone knew this was going to happen. It is part of the business. I'm OK with it. This is not a sad day."
Bagwell's agent, Barry Axelrod, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that Bagwell is "a long shot" to ever play again. But Axelrod said Bagwell isn't ready to officially retire.
n YANKEES: Owner George Steinbrenner, 76, was hospitalized for the second time in three years after becoming ill while watching his granddaughter perform in a play.
Steinbrenner was taken by paramedics to UNC Hospitals on Sunday, The Daily Tar Heel reported Tuesday. Steinbrenner was released Monday morning and returned to Tampa, spokesman Howard Rubenstein said.
  • FREE AGENCY: Oakland's Barry Zito, who could be the most sought-after pitcher in this year's free-agent market, filed.
    Greg Maddux, the four-time Cy Young Award winner traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers by the Chicago Cubs in July, also filed. Injured Dodgers closer Eric Gagne filed provisionally - the team has a $12 million option with a $1 million buyout.
    Also filing was Jeff Weaver, who won the fifth and final game of the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals last Friday and Detroit first baseman Sean Casey, who hit .529 with two homers in the World Series.
    New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, who isn't sure whether he wants to play next year, was among 21 players who filed.
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