Miami jury convicts two men in Cuban ballplayer-smuggling via Cancun
MIAMI — A Miami jury on Wednesday March 15 convicted a Florida sports agent and a baseball trainer on charges they smuggled Cuban baseball players to the U.S. via Cancun, in search of big profits from professional free agent contracts.
The verdict came after jurors heard about six weeks of testimony in the trial of Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada, who were indicted on conspiracy and alien smuggling charges for an operation that began in 2009 and involved a number of high-profile Major League Baseball players, AP reported.
The jury deliberated only about five hours before the verdict. Prosecutors said Hernandez faces between three and 15 years in prison and Estrada — convicted of more smuggling counts — faces between five and 35 years behind bars.
They also face forfeiture of more than $15.5 million, plus real estate, four Mercedes-Benz vehicles and contents of bank accounts.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams set sentencing for July 11 and will allow both men to remain free on bail. Defense attorneys promised there would be appeals.
Trial evidence showed an existing Cuban smuggling operation that brought people from the communist-run island to Cancun became the platform in 2009 for the much more lucrative trade in elite ballplayers. People involved in that operation testified it was ultimately overseen by Hernandez and Estrada.
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