MIAMI, FL – Two men were sentenced to federal prison Thursday in connection to a violent and sophisticated smuggling network which brought Cuban players to the U.S.
U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams ordered a sentence of nearly four years for sports agent Bartolo Hernandez and just over five years for baseball trainer Julio Estrada. Both were convicted in March of conspiracy and alien smuggling charges.
High-profile, Major League Baseball players paid the two men after obtaining lucrative contracts, amounting cumulatively to about $230 million, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Davidson. Hernandez, Estrada and members of the smuggling network received about $20 million for their efforts.
While friends and family tried to paint the men as charitable benefactors who have remained in contact with the athletes they brought to the U.S., Judge Williams said the case was fairly simple. While each man displayed elements of good citizenship, Williams said that their activities were centered around making money.
“This case is not about fulfilling dreams. This case is certainly not about love of the game. This case is about money, millions and millions of dollars,” the judge said.
“The truth is, these defendants corrupted young men. They attempted to corrupt the process,” Davidson said.
According to evidence presented at trial, an existing Cuban smuggling operation that brought people from Cuba to Mexico, starting in 2009, before it evolved into a lucrative trade in elite ballplayers. Hernandez and Estrada, who were connected to a drug cartel in Mexico, were ultimately responsible for the groups’ activities, according to witnesses.
Hernandez and Estrada are planning to appeal their convictions and sentences. They were ordered to surrender by Dec. 14 to begin serving their sentences.
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