Sports agent Bartolo Hernandez and baseball trainer Julio Estrada could not overcome a mountain of evidence and testimony from Cuban-born Major League Baseball players who linked the two Florida men to a human trafficking ring that brought Cuban players into the U.S.
Wednesday afternoon, after a nearly two month trial, 12 jurors found Hernandez and Estrada guilty of conspiracy and alien smuggling charges. Hernandez, charged with two counts, faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years. Estrada, charged with four counts, is looking at 35 years maximum in prison.
As the verdict was read, both men showed little emotion, with their gaze turned away from the jury.
Female family members sobbed loudly in the front row behind the defense table. After the jury was excused, Hernandez got up and planted a kiss on his wife’s lips. He then tightly hugged one of his daughters. “Be strong,” he whispered to her.
Both men will remain free on bond until their sentencing hearing on July 11.
Update (5:57 p.m.): Shortly after 5 p.m., Estrada and lawyer Sabrina Puglisi walked out of the Miami federal courthouse. Estrada, dressed in a two piece navy suit and matching tie on a crisp white shirt, maintained to the small gaggle of reporters that he did nothing wrong.
“I consider myself an honest person,” Estrada said. “I don’t feel good right now, but I can place my head on my pillow and sleep well at night.”
Estrada insisted that the Cuban players he is accused of helping smuggle into the United States made the decision to leave Cuba on their own. “I don’t play a role in that,” he said. “The ones who have triumphed in leaving, I have been here to help them out. I shared my knowledge of baseball with them and I counseled them on their contracts.”
Hernandez’s lawyer declined to comment.