A Dominican youth baseball trainer used baseball equipment bags identical to his players' to conceal some of the 293 kilos of cocaine and weapons that authorities seized on Sept. 17 in what they called an "unprecedented" raid. Jose Gabriel Arias Castillo, 35, had 244 packets of cocaine, two P-90 submachine guns, a rifle equipped with a silencer and telescope along with several other weapons, thousands of bullets and a drug press in a Honda Ridgeline pick-up truck parked near the home where players in his care resided.
Arias Castillo, a former pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies minor league system, seemed to be making a smooth transition from athlete to trainer -- or buscon, as those who train, house, and feed Dominican prospects in exchange for a percentage of their bonuses, are known. He had recently signed one pitcher to a major league contract for a little more than $300,000 and helped another player to a $75,000 bonus.
The Dominican Republic's National District prosecutor, Alejandro Moscoso Segarra, told reporters in Santo Domingo that the drugs may be linked to international fugitive Jose Figueroa Agosto's crime ring. Figueroa Agosto is wanted by the FBI, among other international crime-fighting agencies. One published report in the Dominican Republic estimated that Figueroa Agosto's ring moves $200 million monthly in drug money.
It is unclear how many teenage prospects Arias Castillo trained and housed at his academy in the Villa Mella neighborhood north of Santo Domingo, but a spokesman for the Dominican's National Direction of Drug Control (DNCD, as it's know by its Spanish-language acronymn) says that authorities do not suspect the prospects of any involvement at this time.
SI.com's calls on Friday morning to two phone numbers on file for Arias Castillo went directly to voicemail. DNCD spokesman Roberto Lebron said that Arias Castillo is being held in jail while he awaits a hearing with a judge.
One international scout described Arias Castillo as a "very low-profile" trainer. Other trainers in the Dominican Republic who knew Arias Castillo and spoke to SI.com noted that -- as his two recent signings indicated -- his program was gaining momentum and recognition by MLB scouts and aspiring players. Known as "Ban Ban" or "El Pelotero" (The Ballplayer), Arias Castillo pitched for the Phillies' Appalachian League team in 1996, compiling a 10.98 ERA in 10 2/3 innings over five games.
Arias Castillo's arrest, while isolated, underscores a growing fear among Latin American baseball scouts and executives: That baseball signing bonuses maybe becoming a preferred method for laundering drug money. The millions of dollars teams issue in signing bonuses, combined with cash payments that players often issue their trainers, create ideal conditions for money laundering on an island that narcotics traffickers often consider the gateway to both the U.S. and European drug markets.
Baseball trainers like Arias Castillo are not subject to regulations or background checks by either the Dominican government or Major League Baseball. MLB has long insisted that it has no authority over coaches or players who are not employed by an MLB team. Baseball's Department of Investigations, however, has drafted a watch list for scouts, warning them of trainers with a track record of steroid users, document fraud or other major problems.
"It's only a matter of time," one international scouting director said, "before one of us gets shot or killed."