Yasiel Puig’s lawyers examine the defense and delay the guilty plea
Lawyers for former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was expected Wednesday to plead guilty to lying to federal authorities investigating an illegal sports betting ring, now say they are reviewing a possible defense.
Puig was joined by his attorneys, Keri Axel and Jose Nuno, and his agent, Lisette Carnet, in US District Court in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday. A judge agreed to continue the hearing through Tuesday.
“We need more time to assess a possible defense of innocence,” Axel told the Times after the hearing.
Puig, 31, had previously signed an agreement to plead guilty to one count of making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said. He also agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000.
Prosecutors alleged that Puig made “several false statements to agents relevant to the investigation” when federal authorities questioned him about the gambling ring on Jan. 27, according to the plea agreement.
After the agreement was unsealed on November 14, Axel told the Times that Puig would be eligible for parole and was looking forward to moving on from the episode, but in the days since, she said, the evidence is on Light that would have changed their view of the case.
Puig had placed bets with an illegal sports betting company run by Wayne Nix, a former minor league baseball player who lives in Newport Beach, but he was not charged in connection with participating in the ring’s operations. Those bets went through a third party, a former college baseball player and personal coach, referred to in the defense agreement as “Agent 1,” who placed and accepted bets for Nix’s business.
Axel said she spotted several messages that Agent 1 and one of Agent 1’s employees sent to their client.
Agent 1 and the collaborator asked Puig several times to speak about the federal investigation, but he declined, she said.
Until Axel saw the news, she said in court, she didn’t realize how often Agent 1 and the associate contacted Puig for information about the investigation, how often Puig refused to tell them about the investigation, and the potential she had customer was pinched.
Axel told U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee that she would like time to request and review prosecutor records so she can adequately advise Puig on whether there is a possible defense — including the federal government’s report of the interview with Puig, handwritten notes of the interview conducted by the agents and any fee documents or defense agreements relating to Agent 1 and the employee.
Puig did not have his own Spanish-speaking interpreter or a criminal lawyer with him during the interview, his camp said.
Axel said she faced several challenges in advising her client, who is Spanish-speaking and has a third-grade education, and who played baseball in South Korea until returning to the United States for his indictment last week. Trying to advise Puig on complex legal issues while dealing with the language barrier and time difference has been a major challenge, she said.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeff Mitchell, one of two prosecutors working on the case, said the plea agreement was signed months ago and that prosecutors have provided their evidence to Puig’s defense team.
The request from Puig’s team could result in the plea agreement being broken, Mitchell said, although Axel told the judge Puig did not want to break his agreement at this point.
Puig, who defected from Cuba in 2012, became a naturalized US citizen in 2019. Puig last played for a major league baseball team in 2019. Since then he has played in the Dominican Winter League, the Mexican League and last season in South Korea.