Former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig announced Wednesday he has withdrawn from an agreement to plead guilty to lying to federal officials about bets on sporting events that he allegedly placed with an illegal gambling operation.
“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.”
Federal prosecutors announced in mid-November that Puig, who now plays in South Korea, had agreed to plead guilty to one federal count of making false statements — a crime that carries a sentence of up to five years behind bars.
According to the plea agreement, Puig — who also played for the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians — began placing bets on games in May 2019 through an unidentified man who worked on behalf of an illegal gambling business run by Wayne Nix, 46, a former minor league pitcher who lives in Newport Coast.
Within a month, Puig’s losses reached $282,900, the plea agreement stated.
In January 2022, federal investigators interviewed Puig in the presence of his lawyer. During the interview, despite being warned that lying to federal agents is a crime, Puig lied several times, including when he said that he never discussed gambling with the bookie, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In fact, Puig discussed sports betting with the man hundreds of times on the telephone and via text message, federal prosecutors said.
But in a statement Wednesday, Puig’s attorney said “significant new evidence has come to light.”
“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,” attorney Keri Axel said. “We have reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel.”
Nix pleaded guilty in April to one count each of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and filing a false tax return. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 8.
Federal prosecutors have also filed a plea agreement for former MLB player Erik Kristian Hiljus, 49, of Panorama City, who agreed to plead guilty to two counts of subscribing to false tax returns and will face up to six years in federal prison upon entering his guilty plea. Hiljus was an agent for Nix’s illegal gambling business but did not work with Puig.