Ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig alleges LA prosecutors targeted him based on skin color

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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 his skin color, according to court papers obtained Monday.

In a filing Friday in federal court, Puig's attorneys asked a 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 the ball player.

Puig's attorneys are accusing 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 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. "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."

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A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment Monday, adding that prosecutors would respond to Puig's request for records and allegations of bias through court filings.

On Friday, three months after Puig withdrew from a plea agreement in the case, he pleaded not guilty to one count each of making false statements and obstruction of justice.

Puig, 32, who now plays professional baseball in South Korea, has a March 15 motions hearing scheduled in downtown Los Angeles.

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."