Chicago White Sox slugger José Abreu testified today that he ordered a Heineken, then slowly ate his fake Haitian passport on board his flight to illegally enter the United States back in 2013. The testimony came in a federal courtroom in Miami during the ongoing trial of two men—agent Bartolo Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada—who are charged with helping illegally smuggle Cuban baseball players into the country. The trial has stretched on for a month, and the Associated Press said today that it’s expected to last several more weeks.
Abreu testified today specifically about how he was brought to the United States as a Cuban baseball player, paid $20 a month back in Cuba to play baseball. He spoke in Spanish, with a translator in the courtroom then giving his account in English, according to the Sun Sentinel. In return for his testimony, he was given limited immunity, the AP reported.
Abreu left Cuba by boat in August 2013, settling first in Haiti, where he testified that fixer Amin Latouff (who has not been arrested) helped him establish residency, the Sun Sentinel reported. From there he crossed the border into the Dominican Republic, where Hernandez and Estrada hosted showcases for him and eventually reached an oral agreement for a lucrative deal for him joining the White Sox. And that help was not for free, according to the AP account of the testimony.
Estrada’s company, Total Baseball, was to be paid 20 percent of Abreu’s contract and Hernandez was to receive 5 percent.
Later Wednesday, Abreu testified that he has paid more than $7 million to Estrada’s company under their agreement and began sending him $25,000 a month after Estrada’s assets were frozen following his indictment in 2016. Abreu also said he bought a $500,000 house in the Florida Keys for Estrada to live in, although it remains in Abreu’s name.
But getting a fake Haitian passport to make the final journey was his idea, Abreu said, and he asked Latouff for help getting it, according to the AP.
“I trusted that he was someone who could help me and I confided in him that secret,” Abreu testified.
Latouff set up Abreau with an Air France flight from Haiti to Miami; Abreu testified that Latouff also warned him that he needed to get rid of the fake passport before reaching the United States. After boarding, Abreu said he dumped most of the passport in the airplane bathroom, the Sun Sentinel reported, but kept the first page with his identification on him for when he headed back to his seat. There he ordered a beer and started chewing.
“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.
Defense lawyers for Hernandez and Estrada have said their clients did not break the law, per the Sun Sentinel, and were just representing Cuban-born players after they defected. Abreu himself spoke kindly about Estrada, who also was the best man at his wedding.
“These were people who had helped me a lot in getting into this country, so I had a lot of trust in them,” Abreu said, per the AP. “In my case, I had the ability to perform that charitable work, you might call it.”