LOS ANGELES – A former Major League Baseball (MLB) player has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge for lying to federal law enforcement officials about bets on sporting events that he placed with an illegal gambling operation, according to court documents unsealed today.
Yasiel Puig Valdés, 31, who currently plays professional baseball in South Korea, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of making false statements, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
Puig, who formerly played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and two other MLB franchises, has agreed to pay a fine of at least $55,000. Puig has agreed to make his initial appearance on November 15 in United States District Court.
“Under our system of justice, no one is above the law,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “The integrity of our nation’s criminal justice system depends on people telling the truth, and those who fail to abide by this simple principle must face consequences.”
“When given the opportunity to be truthful about his involvement with Nix’s Gambling businesses, Mr. Puig chose not to,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher. “Mr. Puig’s lies hindered the legal and procedural tasks of the investigators and prosecutors.”
“Lying to federal agents is a serious offense,” said HSI Los Angeles Acting Special Agent in Charge Eddy Wang. “HSI Los Angeles and our partners will actively pursue those that seek to hinder the fair administration of justice.”
According to his plea agreement, which was filed on August 29, in May 2019, Puig began placing bets on sporting events through a third party – identified in court documents as “Agent 1” – who worked on behalf of an illegal gambling business run by Wayne Joseph Nix, 46, of Newport Coast.
Puig called and sent text messages to Agent 1 with wagers on sporting events. Agent 1 then submitted the bets to the Nix gambling business on Puig’s behalf. By June 2019, Puig owed Nix’s gambling business $282,900 for sports gambling losses.
Agent 1 and another person identified in court papers as “Individual B” instructed Puig to make a check or wire transfer payable to a Nix gambling business client – identified in court papers as “Individual A” – to whom the business owed at least $200,000 in gambling winnings.
On June 25, 2019, Puig withdrew $200,000 from a Bank of America branch in Glendale then purchased two cashiers’ checks for $100,000 each that were made payable to Individual A. Puig did not immediately send the checks due to a dispute over the balance and access to Nix-controlled websites used to place sports bets. Nix refused to allow Puig access to the betting websites until Puig’s gambling debt was paid.
After Puig paid the $200,000, Nix provided Puig direct access to the betting websites. From July 4, 2019 to September 29, 2019, Puig placed 899 additional bets on tennis, football and basketball games through the websites.
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. During the interview, he falsely stated that he only knew Agent 1 from baseball and that he never discussed gambling with him, when in fact Puig discussed sports betting with Agent 1 hundreds of times on the telephone and via text message.
After agents showed Puig a copy of one of the cashiers’ checks he purchased on June 25, 2019, Puig falsely stated that he did not know the person who instructed him to send $200,000 in cashiers’ checks to Individual A. Puig also falsely stated that he had placed a bet online with an unknown person on an unknown website that resulted in a loss of $200,000.
In March 2022, Puig sent Individual B an audio message via WhatsApp in which he admitted to lying to federal agents during the interview two months earlier.
Nix pleaded guilty on April 11 to one count of conspiracy to operate an illegal sports gambling business and one count of filing a false tax return. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 8, 2023.
Federal prosecutors today 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.
Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and IRS Criminal Investigation are investigating this matter. The HSI agents are part of the El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force.
Assistant United States Attorneys Jeff Mitchell of the Major Frauds Section and Dan Boyle of the Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Section are prosecuting these cases.