Yahoo’s Jeff Passan is reporting that MLB agent Bart Hernandez was arrested this morning after a federal grand jury indicted him on human-trafficking charges.
Hernandez represents several Cuban ball players, and allegedly helped Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin defect from Cuba in 2010. According to a sealed indictment cited by Passan, Hernandez conspired with smugglers who helped get Martin out of Cuba and then held him hostage while Martin negotiated a contract with the Rangers, a portion of which was then taken by the smugglers as payment. Hernandez could face up to 20 years in prison.
It is quite common for smugglers to get involved with Cuban baseball players who wish to defect. The most well-known instance comes from Los Angeles Magazine’s story about Yasiel Puig’s defection, which saw Puig follow a path very similar to Martin’s. According to the story, Puig was held hostage in a Mexican motel room by his smugglers after something went wrong with the payment process, and was eventually rescued when a friend of his hired men to stage a kidnapping at the motel.
The people who smuggle athletes out of Cuba often have ties to Mexican drug cartels, and the deals that go down are impossibly shady. Now that the U.S. has normalized relations with Cuba, here’s hoping that Cuban ballplayers will be able to come to MLB via safer means.