Ex-MLB player Yasiel Puig pleads guilty to lying about illegal sports betting

Former Major League Baseball player Yasiel Puig has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of lying to law enforcement about sports betting he made with an illegal gambling operator, according to documents unsealed by the U.S. Justice Department on Monday.

Puig, who now plays professionally in South Korea, will plead guilty to one count of making false statements, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison. He also agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000.

Puig will appear in U.S. District Court for the first time on Tuesday.

According to his plea deal filed Aug. 29, Puig — who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland during a seven-year MLB career from 2013 to ’19 — began pleading in May 2019 to a third party who worked for a illegal gambling operation run by Wayne Nix, a former minor league baseball player.

In June 2019, Puig had lost $282,900 to Nix’s gambling business; After paying off $200,000 of his losses and regaining access to Nix-controlled gambling websites, Puig placed an additional 899 bets on tennis, football and basketball games from July 4, 2019 to September 29, 2019.

The DOJ release made no reference to bets made on baseball. Puig played for Cincinnati and Cleveland in 2019 before becoming a free agent. He then played in the Mexican League and last year he signed a one-year, $1 million contract with South Korea’s Kiwoom Heroes.

In January, federal investigators questioned Puig in the presence of his lawyer. In his plea deal, Puig acknowledged lying to those federal agents investigating the company, and denied making any bets through the operation.

“When given the opportunity to be honest about his involvement in Nix’s gambling business, Mr. Puig chose not to,” Tyler Hatcher, IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office special agent in Charge, said in the statement. release. “Mr. Puig’s lies hampered the legal and procedural duties of the investigators and prosecutors.”

Nix pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and filing a false tax return. Prosecutors said Nix’s operation spanned two decades and included both current and former professional athletes as clients or employees.

Federal prosecutors also announced Monday that another former MLB player, Erik Kristian Hiljus, 49, of Los Angeles, had agreed to plead guilty to two counts of subscribing to false tax returns. They said he was an agent for Nix’s operation.

Hiljus was called up by the New York Mets in 1991, but made his major league debut in 1999 with the Detroit Tigers. He also played for the Oakland Athletics in 2001 and 2002. He pitched 124 innings in four seasons and went 8-3 with a 4.72 career ERA.

Hiljus could face up to six years in prison if convicted.

Puig batted .277 with 132 home runs and 415 RBIs over his seven major league seasons, the first six with the Dodgers, with whom he earned an All-Star selection in 2014.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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