Former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig reversed course from previously agreeing to plead guilty to one count of making false statements to federal law enforcement officials regarding bets he placed on sporting events with an illegal gambling operation.
Attorneys for Puig announced that significant new evidence prompted the former All-Star to withdraw his agreement and change his plea to not guilty. The change in his decision comes after Puig’s lawyers said they believe a defense case exists for the 31-year-old.
Puig’s statements occurred during a Zoom interview in January 2022 related to betting that occurred in 2019. Although he was eligible for probation under his plea agreement, he has decided to fight the allegations.
“I want to clear my name,” Puig said in a statement. “I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”
Keri Axel, an attorney representing Puig, is in discussions with the government about the new evidence.
“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,” she said.
“We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel.”
The charge against Puig stems from an investigation into a sports gambling operation run by Wayne Nix, a former Minor League baseball player.
The attorneys for Puig said he placed bets in 2019 through a third party but did not interact with Nix, who pleaded guilty on April 11 to one count of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return.
Four other men also pled guilty to federal charges in the Nix case. Federal authorities said a number of professional athletes placed wagers with Nix, but Puig is so far the only one targeted by authorities.
Puig was facing a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison and he agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000 as part of his previous plea deal.
He last appeared in a game with the Dodgers in 2018 before he went on to play for the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds the following year, which was his final season at the Major League level.
Puig has since gone on to play for the Toros del Este of the Dominican Winter League and El Aguila de Veracruz of the Mexican League. He most recently was playing for the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).
Civil rights attorney joins Yasiel Puig’s legal team
Lawrence Middleton, a renowned civil rights attorney, has joined Puig’s legal team as a consultant.
Middleton was one of four attorneys who prosecuted the federal civil rights trial of L.A. Police Department officers in the Rodney King case. He also served as Chief of the Los Angeles United States Attorney’s Office’s Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.
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