Judge denies former Dodger Yasiel Puig's request for federal prosecutors to turn over documents

City News Service
Tuesday, April 11, 2023
Yasiel Puig alleges racial bias in case brought by LA prosecutors
Ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig alleges that Los Angeles federal prosecutors targeted the former Major League Baseball outfielder in an illegal sports betting case because of racial bias, according to court papers.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- A federal judge on Monday rejected former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig's bid to force prosecutors to turn over a mass of documents that would allegedly lend credence to his claims of race-based selective prosecution for lying to investigators in an illegal gambling case.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee denied the request by Puig to compel the government to produce what he claims is evidence that would prove agents have different standards when dealing with Black suspects.

"Because Puig has not come forward with some credible evidence of discriminatory intent and effect, the court respectfully denies the motion to compel," Gee wrote in her order.

Puig's attorneys had asked the judge to order authorities to turn over records concerning the investigative patterns of the prosecution team that led a five-year probe that resulted in two felony charges against him.

Defense attorneys accuse government investigators of implicit bias in how they treat Black witnesses, alleging that the evidence produced thus far shows that they are inclined to view Black men as untruthful and uncooperative, while viewing non-Black persons exactly the opposite -- despite what prosecutors claim is evidence to the contrary.

"This case caught my attention because I see a clear racial bias in how they evaluated Mr. Puig's credibility and treated him throughout this case," civil rights attorney Ben Crump said previously.

"The government has charged him with what they claim are false statements and obstruction resulting from a single interview, when others who were actually involved in the gambling ring -- who lied and destroyed evidence - - were not so charged. Yasiel Puig was just a witness, and he was charged, reprimanded, and made an example of more than the non-Black men who were the actual targets of investigation."

Countless videos of the moment have since gone viral, and Eyewitness News caught up with the couple to talk about the proposal that went wrong.

In their opposition to Puig's motion, federal prosecutors wrote that they have already handed over almost 300,000 pages including reports from the larger investigation, with more to come.

Puig, 32, who most recently played professional baseball in South Korea, faces trial in August in downtown Los Angeles on one federal count each of making false statements and obstruction of justice.

According to prosecutors, Puig began placing bets on games in May 2019 through an unidentified man who worked on behalf of an illegal gambling business run by Wayne Nix, 46, of Newport Coast.

Within a month, Puig's losses reached $282,900, prosecutors allege.

In January 2022, federal investigators interviewed Puig in the presence of his lawyer. During the interview, despite being warned that lying to federal agents is a crime, Puig allegedly lied several times, including when he said that he never discussed gambling with the bookie, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In fact, Puig discussed sports betting with the man hundreds of times on the telephone and via text message, federal prosecutors contend.

Nix pleaded guilty last year to one count each of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and filing a false tax return. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 7.

Puig originally agreed to plead guilty to a single count of making false statements, but later withdrew from his plea agreement. The agreement was not binding until he formally entered his plea before a federal judge, which he had not yet done. He subsequently pleaded not guilty to the two charges.

"I want to clear my name," Puig said in a statement when he entered his not-guilty plea. "I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit."

Along with the Dodgers, Puig also played for the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians.

In a statement at the time Puig withdrew from the plea agreement, his attorney said "significant new evidence has come to light."

"At the time of his January 2022 interview, Mr. Puig, who has a third- grade education, had untreated mental-health issues, and did not have his own interpreter or criminal legal counsel with him," defense attorney Keri Axel said. "We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel."

Erik Hiljus, a former MLB pitcher from the San Fernando Valley, was sentenced last week to three months' home detention for filing false tax returns as part of the case against the illegal gambling business.

Hiljus, 50, of Panorama City, was also ordered by Gee to pay $194,701 in fines and restitution, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Hiljus pleaded guilty in December to two counts of filing false tax returns.

Hiljus was an agent for the illegal gambling business but did not work with Puig, prosecutors said.

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