By Tim Arango | Fortune
Baseball agent Gus Dominguez will almost certainly go to prison for helping Cuban ballplayers flee Fidel Castro’s Communist regime to freely peddle their talents to the highest bidder.
It took a federal jury in Key West, Fla., just four hours Thursday to convict Dominguez on 21 counts of alien smuggling and other immigration violations. Dominguez faces a maximum of decades in prison - or 10 years per person smuggle - but it is more likely he will get three to five years, a source close to the case has estimated.
Dominguez will be sentenced July 9, but his attorney said Thursday he would appeal.
The trial, the first of its kind in which a baseball agent was charged with alien smuggling, lasted seven days and exposed a shadowy underworld of the baseball economy.
In court testimony, an admitted drug felon said Dominguez paid him to orchestrate a smuggling operation in 2004 that brought five Cuban baseball players to a beach in the Florida Keys. Two of those players are playing minor league baseball - for the Atlanta Braves and Arizona Diamondbacks - and the other three are out of baseball.
The money paid to the convicted drug felon, Ysbel Medina-Santos, was funneled through the bank account of Henry Blanco, the backup catcher for the Chicago Cubs. Blanco testified on the first day of the trial, and said Dominguez, his agent, had access to his account to pay bills and make investments.
Dominguez took the stand this week and claimed that the money paid to Medina-Santos - which amounted to more than $200,000 - was not for baseball players but because the drug dealer had threatened his family.
Cuba is known as a hotbed a baseball talent - and teams salivate at the prospect of one day being able to freely mine the country for players. But until U.S. policy changes or Fidel Castro’s regime collapses, Cuban players who wish to play professionally have to defect.
Throughout the trial the prosecution painted a picture of Dominguez as simply a businessman looking to make a buck, while the defense aimed at portraying the agent as a family man and a heroic figure who helped young players flee oppression in Cuba.
Dominguez pioneered the niche business of representing Cuban defectors when he helped pitcher Rene Arocha - who became the first Cuban ballplayer to defect when he left in 1991 - get a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals.