LA Federal Prosecutors Deny Yasiel Puig's Claim of Government Bias

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles have hit back at ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig's allegation that he was targeted in an illegal sports betting case because of his skin color, according to court papers obtained Thursday.

In a filing Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office wrote that Puig's "assertion of race-based selective prosecution bespeaks its hollowness."

The filing contends that the government's handling of the gambling investigation that ensnared the former Major League Baseball outfielder "shows that defendant was treated fairly and the government's charging decisions were not affected by race in any way."

Puig's attorneys last week asked a judge to order authorities to turn over records concerning the investigative patterns of the prosecution team that led a five-year probe that resulted in two felony charges against the ball player.

Defense attorneys are accusing investigators of implicit bias in how they treat Black witnesses, alleging that the evidence produced thus far shows that they are inclined to view Black men as untruthful and uncooperative, while viewing non-Black persons exactly the opposite -- despite evidence to the contrary.

"This case caught my attention because I see a clear racial bias in how they evaluated Mr. Puig's credibility and treated him throughout this case," civil rights attorney Ben Crump said previously. "The government has charged him with what they claim are false statements and obstruction resulting from a single interview, when others who were actually involved in the gambling ring -- who lied and destroyed evidence -- were not so charged. Yasiel Puig was just a witness, and he was charged, reprimanded, and made an example of more than the non-Black men who were the actual targets of investigation."

In their opposition to Puig's motion to compel production of discovery, federal prosecutors wrote that they have already handed over almost 300,000 pages including reports from the larger betting base investigation, with more to come.

Puig, 32, who now plays professional baseball in South Korea, has a March 15 hearing on the matter scheduled in downtown Los Angeles federal court.

Puig originally agreed to plead guilty to a single count of making false statements, but later withdrew from his plea agreement. The agreement was not binding until he formally entered his plea before a federal judge, which he had not yet done. He subsequently pleaded not guilty to one count each of making false statements and obstruction of justice.

According to prosecutors, Puig began placing bets on games in May 2019 through an unidentified man who worked on behalf of an illegal gambling business run by Wayne Nix, 46, of Newport Coast.

Within a month, Puig's losses reached $282,900, prosecutors allege.

In January 2022, federal investigators interviewed Puig in the presence of his lawyer. During the interview, despite being warned that lying to federal agents is a crime, Puig allegedly lied several times, including when he said that he never discussed gambling with the bookie, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In fact, Puig discussed sports betting with the man hundreds of times on the telephone and via text message, federal prosecutors contend.

Nix pleaded guilty in April to one count each of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and filing a false tax return. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 7.

"I want to clear my name," Puig said in a statement when he entered his not-guilty plea. "I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit."

Puig -- who also played for the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Guardians -- is now expected to go to trial.

In a statement at the time the ball player withdrew from the plea agreement, his attorney said "significant new evidence has come to light."

"At the time of his January 2022 interview, Mr. Puig, who has a third- grade education, had untreated mental-health issues, and did not have his own interpreter or criminal legal counsel with him," defense attorney Keri Axel said. "We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel."

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