Rangers execs lead off defense in Cuban smuggling trial
MIAMI (AP) Two Texas Rangers executives testified Tuesday they never discussed bringing Cuban ballplayers to the U.S. illegally with a Florida sports agent on trial for allegedly smuggling players from the communist-governed island.
Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels and assistant GM Mike Daly told a jury they never knew that outfielder Leonys Martin planned to cross the U.S. border in Texas illegally and never talked about it with Martin's agent, Bartolo Hernandez.
''Absolutely not,'' Daly said under questioning from Hernandez attorney Daniel Rashbaum.
Martin testified earlier he came into the U.S. in 2011 without documents because he feared being kidnapped while awaiting a visa in Mexico. Martin later signed a $15.5 million contract with the Rangers and now plays for the Seattle Mariners. Cubans at the time were generally allowed to stay once they reached U.S. soil.
Daniels and Daly were the first two defense witnesses in the trial of Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada. Prosecutors rested earlier Tuesday after about four weeks of testimony.
Hernandez and Estrada are charged in a six-count indictment with conspiracy and bringing aliens illegally into the U.S. Prosecutors say they used phony travel documents and fake residency papers to clear Cubans to play baseball in the U.S. so they could pocket a chunk of their MLB contracts.
Both Rangers executives said they did not review any residency or travel documents before signing Martin, relying instead on Major League Baseball to inform them if he was an eligible free agent. Players from Cuba must establish residency in a third country to negotiate free agent contracts rather than submitting to the less-lucrative MLB draft.
Daniels also said part of Martin's contract was changed after he arrived to delete a section requiring him to obtain a U.S. visa, substituting instead that Martin get a work permit.
''You considered him a valuable talent for your organization, is that fair to say?'' said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Davidson.
''Yes, it is,'' Daniels replied.
Daly was also shown phone records listing a call between him and Hernandez on April 2, 2011, several hours after Martin had crossed the U.S. border illegally.
''I spoke a lot with Bart throughout the process,'' Daly said. Asked if that call was about Martin's border crossing, Daly replied, ''No, sir.''
Also testifying Tuesday was former player Alejandro Piloto, who spent three seasons in the Atlanta Braves' minor leagues but said he now works security at a nightclub. Piloto, who was trained by Estrada, said he and another player crossed the U.S. border illegally in Mexico but that Estrada did not know of their plan.
''He was not with us,'' Piloto testified.
''Did Julio do anything or suggest that you cross the border illegally?'' asked Estrada attorney Dianne Carames.
''No, never,'' he responded. ''I was seeing that the process was taking too long. I wanted to come and play ball here.''
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