Cuba is one of the richest pipelines for world-class baseball talent. It's also one of the most treacherous places for Major League Baseball teams to recruit. Thanks to the embargo, defectors have to risk perilous journeys across the Straits of Florida or through Latin America before they can snag big-money contracts in the United States. Agents, meanwhile, operate in that murky world, shepherding them along through illegal coyotes — often at great risk to the players.
Today, one of the biggest local agents in that gray-market business has been arrested on human-trafficking charges in Miami. Bart Hernandez, an agent who now works for singer Marc Anthony's Magnus Sports, was reportedly arraigned this afternoon in federal court.
The indictment against him hasn't been unsealed yet, but Yahoo Sports got its hands on a copy. It shows that Hernandez has been charged in connection with a particularly contentious client, Seattle Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin.
Martin has already spelled out his ordeal in a federal civil complaint. The ballplayer says when he defected in 2010, he was spirited away to Mexico, where he was essentially held hostage until promising a huge chunk of his future earnings to the shady men holding him there.
There have already been other criminal charges linked to the case: In 2013, federal prosecutors charged three conspirators in Martin's extortion: Eliezer Lazo, Joel Martinez Hernandez, and Yillian Hernandez. Lazo pleaded guilty last year and received 175 months in prison and $144,000 restitution; Yillian got one year behind bars; it's not clear how Joel Martinez Hernandez case was resolved.
At that time, Bart Hernandez — who acted as the Miami-based agent while Martin went through that ordeal — wasn't charged. But according to Yahoo, his time has come today. (Magnus Sports didn't immediately respond to New Times' request for comment on the case.)
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His arrest is a significant blow to the U.S.-Cuba baseball industry. Hernandez has long been among the best-known connections in Miami to big-time players on the island. Here's how the Miami Herald described him in 2014:
Bart Hernandez [has] become synonymous with Cuban players by leading them through the convoluted process and signing many to rich contracts.
Martin's case isn't the first to cast open a window on the dark side of Cuba's baseball exports. In 2014, another South Florida man was charged with smuggling star slugger Yasiel Puig out of Cuba. Puig was held hostage by a Mexican drug cartel until he signed away millions of future earnings.