Ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig Says Racism Is to Blame for His Criminal Charges

Famed civil rights lawyer Ben Crump reps ex-Dodgers outfielder Puig in his fight to prove he was unfairly targeted by Feds in gambling probe

Former Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig is accusing federal prosecutors of racism over charges they brought against him for allegedly lying to investigators about an illegal sports gambling ring.

And Puig has brought in a heavy hitter to handle his case—civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who rose to prominence representing the families of Black victims of abuse of force by police, including the survivors of George Floyd and Daunte Wright in Minnesota and, last month, Tyre Nichols in Tennessee.

Crump appeared outside the new federal courthouse downtown on Saturday with Puig and his L.A.-based counsel, Keri Curtis Axel and Jose R. Nuño.

“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,” Crump said in a press release. He claims prosecutors charged Puig based on “a single interview, when others who were actually involved in the gambling ring – who lied and destroyed evidence – were not so charged.”

The criminal charges relate to false statements the six-season Dodgers outfielder allegedly made to federal agents about his involvement in an illegal gambling operation run by Wayne Nix, a former Minor League Baseball player who pleaded guilty last year to two felonies and is awaiting sentencing.

Puig is accused of lying to agents who were looking into his efforts to clear a debt of over $280,000 he owed to Nix, a past-due obligation that resulted in Nix cutting off the player’s access to his gambling websites.

Puig struck a deal with prosecutors in November that called for him to plead guilty to one felony count of making false statements, pay at least $55,000 in fines and possibly face up to six months in prison. Puig admitted in a written agreement last August that he started betting on sports in May 2019 through a man working for Nix who turned out to be cooperating with the feds. He told agents in a January 2022 interview that he only knew the man from baseball, according to the agreement, then denied key facts related to his gambling debt payments.

Prosecutors accuse Puig of betting on basketball, football and tennis—but not baseball.

Puig backed out of the deal during his scheduled plea hearing in November, and prosecutors secured a new indictment last month that adds an obstruction of justice charge to the roster.

Now, Puig’s defense team is going on the offense by asking U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee to order prosecutors to hand over information that could help them prove authorities were unfairly selective in targeting their client.

Their motion, filed Friday, describes Puig as Black and “also a Latino and a Cuban defector” and said he was “the only interviewee in all of the government’s discovery that was interviewed through an interpreter.”

Non-Black people were given “far greater leeway to correct and rehabilitate false statements” during interviews related to Nix’s gambling ring, the lawyers claim, while Black people such as Puig were read the literal text of the federal law governing false statements and warned of criminal punishment.

“The protocol was markedly different between similarly situated individuals on the basis of race, controlling for all other factors,” the motion states, adding that prosecutors charged Puig “based on implicit biases about how Puig should have answered their questions.”

The motion further alleges that Puig was “repeatedly bullied by the prosecution team during his interview” despite “translation difficulties and cultural differences” that the lawyers say “should have been obvious” to interrogators.

“Whether Puig is being prosecuted and punished for being a disorderly Black man or a disorderly Cuban man is of no moment—both are prohibited motives, implicit or not,” they state.

The motion seeks information on all false statement charges brought by the prosecutor on Puig’s case in the last 10 years, as well as implicit bias training materials for prosecutors and other internal manuals. It also seeks internal documents related to a now-settled lawsuit from Charles Pell, an assistant U.S. attorney who alleged racial discrimination within the office.

Puig’s lawyers also take issue with a press release the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles issued about the case.

“The USAO press releases and the prosecutor’s statement about Puig’s alleged conduct demonstrates a clear intent to scold, admonish, and punish Black men more than multiple similarly-situated non-White men,” lawyers wrote.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in L.A., said prosecutors will be filing a written response in court, but, “Until then, we will not be commenting.”

Puig has been playing professional baseball in South Korea after stints with the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians following his run with the Dodgers. He’s currently a free agent.

Read the full motion here.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign for our newsletters today