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Los Angeles Magazine Breaks Open Story of Yasiel Puig’s Escape

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In its May 2014 issue, Los Angeles Magazine pulls back the curtain on the illicit pipeline that brought Cuban defector and 2013 National League Rookie of the Year runner-up Yasiel Puig to the Los Angeles Dodgers . Relying on newly uncovered court documents, exclusive interviews, and firsthand reporting in California, Arizona, Florida, and Cuba, contributing writer Jesse Katz unveils what until now has been shrouded in mystery and rumor: A smuggling ring, with ties to a Mexican drug cartel, transported Puig out of Cuba and held him captive for nearly a month on Isla Mujeres while the price of his freedom was being negotiated. Among the findings were:

•   Puig’s defection from Cuba was underwritten by a small-time crook in Miami named Raul Pacheco, an air-conditioning repairman with arrests for attempted burglary and credit-card fraud.

•   Pacheco agreed to pay a smuggling ring $250,000 to transport Puig to Mexico, where he could establish residency and declare himself a free agent. In return, Puig would owe Pacheco 20 percent of his future earnings.

•   The smugglers who transported Puig were in cahoots with Los Zetas, the Mexican drug cartel. Two of the smugglers, Yandrys Leon and Tomas Velez Valdivia, were fugitives from Florida. Leon, the captain of the speedboat, was under indictment for extorting Cuban migrants on this very route.

•   A financial dispute with Pacheco caused the smugglers to hold Puig captive, threatening him with harm. The smugglers also tried to auction Puig off to sports agents, asking as much as $500,000 for the right to represent him.

•   Instead of meeting the smugglers’ demands, Puig’s backers “staged a kidnapping,” extracting him from a cheap motel off the coast of Cancún. The smugglers, believing they had been stiffed, threatened to kill Puig even after he had signed his $42 million contract and joined the Dodgers.

•   Four months after he guided Puig out of Cuba, the captain—Leon—was found executed in Cancún.

The feature story, which was edited by Matthew Segal and Amy Wallace, took Katz five months to report and write, including a trip to Puig’s birthplace in Cuba. Los Angeles magazine has posted the story in both English and Spanish, and Katz is available for interviews in both languages as well.

You can read the feature story HERE.

This segment aired on the KTLA 5 Morning News on April 16, 2014.