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Local agent faces charges

Immigration officials say Dominguez oversaw operation that smuggled Cuban baseball players to the U.S., where they signed pro contracts.

November 01, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A Southern California player agent who has represented defected Cuban baseball players was among five men charged Tuesday with smuggling, transporting and harboring Cuban players who were signed to professional baseball contracts, federal immigration officials said.

Gustavo "Gus" Dominguez of Chatsworth is identified in federal court documents as vice president of Total Sports International, an Encino agency that has represented Cuban defectors, including Andy Morales, who was signed by the New York Yankees and later the Boston Red Sox.

According to the charges, Dominguez oversaw the illegal movement of four players who have signed contracts with major league teams and are playing for either Class-A or double-A minor league teams. Another five smuggled players from Cuba are unsigned but considered professional "baseball prospects," according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official.

Those players were not identified by officials, and their fate is undetermined.

In a 10-page federal grand jury indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Florida on Oct. 20, Dominguez and co-defendants Geoffrey Rodrigues, Roberto Yosvany Hernandez, Ramon Batista and Guillermo Valdez are charged with smuggling, transporting and harboring aliens "for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain." Federal penalties allow for 10 years' imprisonment and a maximum fine of $250,000 each, authorities said.

An employee at Dominguez's Total Sports International agency said the company had no comment about the criminal case. Dominguez's attorney, Stephen Salter, also declined to comment, other than to report that Dominguez had posted a $25,000 bond Tuesday in Florida.

The indictment alleges that Dominguez "solicited" the baseball players from Cuba. Rodrigues and Hernandez are described as the operators of "go-fast boats or vessels" used in the smuggling ventures who later "separated the baseball players from the other Cuban nationals."

Batista and Valdez are alleged to have driven the baseball players from Miami to Southern California, where the players were allegedly housed at Dominguez's expense at the Oakwood Apartments in Woodland Hills.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that Dominguez and Rodrigues first tried to smuggle the Cubans on July 28, 2004, but U.S. law enforcement officials intercepted the boat, packed with 22 Cuban nationals. Rodrigues is charged with assaulting federal officers with a deadly weapon during that operation.

On Aug. 22, 2004, Dominguez and Rodrigues allegedly repeated the smuggling mission, with Rodrigues and Hernandez landing with 19 Cuban nationals in Monroe County, Fla.

"In California, the defendants ... provided food and clothing [to the Cuban players and] ... immediately began training and conditioning ... and failed to present the baseball players to Customs and Border Protection for immigration processing in the United States," the statement by immigration officials said.

Rodrigues was wanted on a fugitive warrant before being arrested earlier this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said.

Dominguez and Batista surrendered to federal authorities Tuesday, Gonzalez added, and Valdez and Hernandez were arrested in Miami on Monday.

"Though this case involves a Beverly Hills sports agent and talented baseball players, it is remarkably similar to the human smuggling operations that ICE encounters every day," said Julie Myers, an assistant secretary of Immigration and Customs. "The ringleaders put the lives of illegal immigrants at risk and sought to profit from their labor."

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