Puig pleads guilty to the illegal sports gambling case

Former Major League Baseball player Yasiel Puig has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge of lying to law enforcement officials about sports bets he made with an illegal gambling business, according to documents released by the US Department of Justice on Monday.

Puig, who now plays professionally for South Korea, will plead guilty to one count of making false statements, an offense that carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. He also agreed to pay a minimum fine of $55,000.

Puig will appear for the first time in US District Court on Tuesday.

According to a plea agreement he filed on Aug. 29, Puig — who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland during a seven-year career in the MLB from 2013-19 — began betting on sporting events in May 2019 until a third party worked into the process. Illegal gambling is run by Wayne Nix, a former minor league baseball player.

By June 2019, Puig had dropped $282,900 to his Nix gambling business; After paying off $200,000 of his losses and regaining access to betting sites controlled by the Knicks, Puig placed an additional 899 bets on tennis, soccer, and basketball from July 4, 2019, to September 29, 2019.

The DOJ statement did not refer to any bets made on baseball. Puig played for Cincinnati and Cleveland in 2019 before becoming a free agent. Then he played in the Mexican League, and last year, he signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Kiwoom Heroes in South Korea.

In January, Puig was interviewed by federal investigators in the presence of his attorney. In a plea agreement, Puig pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents who were looking into the business, denying that he placed bets during the process.

“When given the opportunity to be honest about his involvement in the Knicks gambling business, Mr. Puig chose not to,” Tyler Hatcher, the special agent in charge of the IRS’s Los Angeles Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said in the release. “Mr. Puig’s lies have hampered the legal and procedural functions of investigators and prosecutors.”

Nix pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy to run an illegal sports gambling business and to file a false tax return. Prosecutors said Nix’s operation lasted two decades and included current and former professional athletes as clients or employees.

Federal prosecutors also announced Monday that another former MLB player, Eric Christian Helgus, 49, of Los Angeles, has agreed to plead guilty to two counts of subscribing to false tax returns. They said he was an agent of Operation Nix.

Hiljus was drafted by the New York Mets in 1991 but made his major league debut in 1999 with the Detroit Tigers. He also played for the Oakland Athletics in 2001 and 2002. He pitched 124 innings in four seasons, going 8-3 with a 4.72 career ERA.

Hiljus could face up to six years in federal prison at sentencing.

277 with 132 home runs and 415 RBI over his seven major league seasons, the first six with the Dodgers, with whom he earned an All-Star selection in 2014.

Information from the Associated Press and Reuters is included in this report.

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