Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin followed a risky but well-trodden path to the Major Leagues. Like many Cuban ballplayers before him, he defected in 2010 while in Japan for the World University Baseball Championship. He made his way to the United States several months later and signed a lucrative, $15.5 million free agent contract with the Rangers in 2011.
It was a mammoth payday, particularly given the $40 a week he was reportedly making back home.
Martin's journey to Arlington, however, is more complex than the poor-Latin-American-ballplayer-strikes-it-rich narrative that's been presented. That point became quite clear on Wednesday, when federal prosecutors in Miami charged three Floridians with conspiring to smuggle, kidnap and extort Martin, according to the Miami Herald.
According to the Herald the Floridians -- Eliezer Lazo, 40, Joel Martinez Hernandez, 37, and Yilian Hernandez, 30 -- were involved with a Mexican company called Estrellas del Beisbol.
The company, which describes itself as "baseball academy that cultivates and trains amateur baseball players who desire to play professional baseball in the United States," signed an agreement with Martin shortly after his defection in 2010. In exchange for providing him food, clothing, housing and training, Martin promised to pay Estrella 30 percent of any future professional baseball contract.
Martin paid the company at least $1.2 million, but Estrella says he owes more and sued the Ranger last year to collect. Martin countered in court by claiming that the company had held him and his family hostage in Mexico until he could get a Major League contract and pay a ransom. Whatever money he paid, Martin said, was out of fear for his family.
Lazo and Martinez are already serving time in federal prison on money laundering convictions tied to Medicare fraud, the Herald reports. Hernandez was arrested Wednesday. They are also charged with illegally smuggling 13 other Cuban baseball prospects into the U.S.
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