Dominguez should know about the dark seams of the business. In 2006, he was indicted for smuggling ballplayers through Key West. The feds built their case on the word of a convicted drug trafficker who claimed Dominguez had paid him $225,000 — borrowed from major-league catcher Henry Blanco — for the work.

Dominguez was convicted and served four years in federal prison. Since his release, he has successfully appealed two of the counts against him. "I will clear my name," he says. He maintains that the Cuban baseball players contacted him after their defection and that he represented them not for any profits, but to aid his countrymen.

His case elucidates the dangerously fine line between agent and smuggler. "I'm sure there are other people out there who have done worse things than Gus," says Carlos Alfonso, director of international operations for the Tampa Bay Rays and himself an exile. "But they haven't gotten caught."

Eighteen-year-old Cubs prospect Yasiel Balaguer is the target of a potentially explosive lawsuit.
C.M. Guerrero / The Miami Herald
Eighteen-year-old Cubs prospect Yasiel Balaguer is the target of a potentially explosive lawsuit.
Carlos Perez claims to have nothing to do with his Cuban baseball clients' defections.
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Carlos Perez claims to have nothing to do with his Cuban baseball clients' defections.

Despite a clampdown on international play, Castro's grip on his country's ballplayers appears to be weakening. Young guys such as 26-year-old Yoenis Céspedes are the new prototype. Billed as one of Cuba's best sluggers, he released on YouTube a bizarre showcase of his talents. The video, produced by a Dominican buscón, featured a Stars Wars-themed intro, footage of a potbellied man salsa dancing, and a dramatic conclusion involving a hog roasting on a spit.

The Oakland Athletics recently signed Céspedes for $36 million over four years. You can bet executives from every major-league team gratefully pored over the weird video, because Cuba remains a scouting abyss. "There's been such an outpouring of young guys in the last few years," acknowledges Andy Mota, a former Houston Astro and current local agent with clients including Miami Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramírez, "you don't even know who's a good player."

The confusing gold rush has created an opportunity for at least one Miami-based buscón who isn't afraid of big risks.

After Gus Dominguez's conviction, the herd of agents representing defectors thinned to about six or seven. They are a combative but secretive guild, constantly filing lawsuits against one another for poaching their clients. (Top defectors, from Contreras to Cincinnati Reds fireballer Aroldis Chapman, have been embroiled in lawsuits involving broken contracts with agents.)

Then, about two years ago, some guy nobody knew suddenly began making a splash, hyping open workouts with new defectors and being reckless as hell. "Nobody knows what Carlos Perez is doing," says a Miami-based agent of top Cuban clients, who asked not to be identified. "We think he's crazy."

In Havana, everybody has a two-centavo hustle. Baseball players peddle their used equipment to tourists. Artists smuggle their work overseas. The government pays a starvation wage, so if you don't elbow for extra scraps, you die.

This was where Carlos Perez developed his fast-talking entrepreneurship. He was born in the capital city in 1958, months before Castro took power. On his florid website, Perez brags that despite his current bowling-pin body type, he was a "local judo champion" in Cuba.

Most boys in the baseball-mad nation want to bat and field when they grow up. Not Carlos Perez. "I always wanted to be an agent," he says. "I love to do business. I love to talk."

He worked in Vedado, near Havana's crumbling downtown, for a government sporting agency. He was "vice president and sponsor of sports events in Cuba," according to a later job application. It was in 1998, he added, that "I came to live in USA."

His cousin Lazaro Collazo was then a well-known assistant coach for the University of Miami baseball team. Collazo was also the director of a nomadic training academy called Hardball Baseball League. Lazer took Perez under his wing, having him handle his public relations.

Perez worked Spanish-language telephone sales for commission. He represented Cuban artists — actors, models, ballet dancers, singers — from his garage and eventually turned that gig into a short-lived agency called Ricard Productions. In 2002, Perez scored the title of Hialeah Gardens' commissioner of baseball — essentially overseeing its youth programs and baseball diamonds. Being the Bud Selig of a predominantly Spanish-speaking Northwest Miami-Dade town paid a starting rate of $10 per hour.

In 2003, Collazo's baseball operation nearly harpooned the entire UM baseball team. NCAA investigators discovered that the then-39-year-old had paid college kids to work for him, a violation of financial-aid restrictions. The school lost several scholarships, and he was forced to resign after 17 years at the university. (Collazo has a knack for making unfortunate headlines. Two years later, he was fired as head coach of Gulliver Prep High School's baseball squad after whipping out his genitals, according to a Coral Gables police report, and angrily wondering if his teenage players "had a set of these or were equipped with a vagina.")

Soon after taking the job in Hialeah Gardens, Perez started his own league — called Fastball Academy — in the town's Westland Gardens Park, apparently making his own boss queasy. In a July 2005 letter preserved in city files, Hialeah Gardens parks honcho Walter Dubon scolded Perez for using town supplies, such as envelopes and postage, for the academy's business: "You are being verbally warned in regard to your outside employment activities."

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Carlos Perez is the typical con artist........I have dealt with him in miami he is all promises and he never comes thru.......there is a reason why he is not a licensed agent it's because he is a thief......Adonis Garcia,Onelkis Garcia, and Yasiel Balaguer all had to go to other agents to get signed because Perez doesn't know what he is doing......He is a typical flim flam man!!!! 


Interesting article...but it would have been nice to give credit to Antonio Prohias, the Cuban-born cartoonist who created Spy vs Spy, the obvious inspiration for your cover illustration. Prohias political satire in the Cuban press forced him to escape to New York to avoid arrest by Castro. Readers of a certain age will remember his work for many years in MAD magazine.

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Without self knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.

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