Ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig pleads not guilty to new federal charges

(Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

Three months after ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig withdrew from a plea agreement in an illegal sports betting case, the former Major League Baseball outfielder pleaded not guilty Friday to new federal charges.

Puig, 32, who now plays professional baseball in South Korea, entered his plea to two counts: making false statements and obstruction of justice, crimes that together carry a total sentence of up to 10 years behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Puig has a trial date set for April 25 in Los Angeles federal court.

The ball player's lawyer, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, and others will be on hand Saturday afternoon in front of the courthouse downtown to discuss their theory that "bias affected federal investigators' assessment of Puig's credibility as a witness, especially when compared with non-Black witnesses."

Puig's defense attorneys contend that racial bias "ultimately led to the decision to charge" their client, and prosecutors have "refused to discuss the matter" with the defense or provide "information that would further show its patterns and practices when it comes to interviewing and charging Black men versus similarly situated non-Black persons."

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 in April 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 was charged in November with one count of making false statements and agreed to plead guilty. But he later announced he had withdrawn from the plea deal. The plea agreement was not binding until he formally entered his plea before a federal judge, which he had not yet done.

"I want to clear my name," Puig said in a statement at the time. "I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit."

Puig -- who also played for the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Guardians -- is now expected to go forward to trial.

In a statement at the time the ball player 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," attorney Keri Axel said. "We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel."