MIAMI — The smugglers who helped Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasiel Puig leave Cuba on a speedboat have made death threats against him and against a Cuban boxer who says he defected with Puig, according to court documents.
The documents are part of a federal lawsuit in Miami and describe a dangerous odyssey of shady characters, unpaid smuggling debts and threats of violence that have followed Puig since he left Cuba by boat in June 2012.
The tale is based almost entirely on the account of the boxer, Yunior Despaigne, who says he is afraid he will be hurt by the smugglers or their associates if Puig hasn’t paid them money he owes. In a 10-page affidavit, Despaigne said a smuggler he knew as “Leo” sent someone to see him in Miami to deliver a message.
“The man pushed me up against my car and pressed a pistol to my liver and told me to tell Puig if he didn’t pay them, that they would kill him,” Despaigne said. The documents didn’t say when the threat occurred.
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Puig’s smuggling venture, first reported by Los Angeles Magazine, is a common way for Cuban baseball players to make it to U.S. professional leagues. Puig went to Mexico first. If Puig had come directly to the U.S., he would have been subjected to the Major League Baseball draft. By establishing residency in a country such as Mexico, he could negotiate a far more lucrative contract as a free agent.
Puig, a 23-year-old outfielder, signed a $42 million, seven-year contract with the Dodgers in June 2012, a record for a Cuban defector. He received a $12 million signing bonus and made $2 million in his rookie year, when he hit .319 in 104 games with 19 home runs and 42 runs batted in.
Puig’s agent, Adam Katz, issued a statement Wednesday saying Puig was aware of the news, but he was not going to comment.
A day later, in a Spanish interview with The Associated Press in San Francisco, Puig said he was concentrating on helping his teammates and not thinking about anything negative.
Despaigne’s affidavit was filed as part of a lawsuit against Puig in which a man jailed in Cuba claims Puig falsely accused him of human trafficking to curry favor with Cuban authorities in an attempt to rejoin Cuba’s national baseball team. Puig had been removed because the Cubans feared he would defect.
Through his lawyers, Puig has denied the man’s claims and wants the lawsuit dismissed.
Despaigne said Puig was responsible for several human trafficker arrests in Cuba and that he appeared to be playing both sides to his advantage.
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