Former Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig is facing an obstruction of justice charge after withdrawing his plea agreement as part of an illegal sports betting investigation.
Puig, who also faces a charge of making false statements to federal authorities, previously agreed to plead guilty as part of the sports wagering probe.
Puig pleaded not guilty to both charges Friday in Los Angeles. The combined charges carry the potential for up to 15 years in prison (10 for obstruction, five for false statements.)
His trial will begin April 25 in Los Angeles Federal Court.
Puig’s attorneys: ‘Clear racial bias’
Puig’s attorneys announced over the weekend “the filing of a motion for selective prosecution in the case due to Puig being pressured to plead guilty by prosecutors.”
His counsel claims that investigators showed a “clear racial bias” toward the former big-leaguer.
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump issued a detailed statement explaining why:
“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. The government has charged him with what they claim are false statements and obstruction resulting from a single interview, when others who were actually involved in the gambling ring – who lied and destroyed evidence – were not so charged.
“Yasiel Puig was just a witness, and he was charged, reprimanded, and made an example of more than the non-Black men who were the actual targets of investigation.”
Puig’s attorneys also announced Monday they are seeking records of the five-year probe into the illegal gambling operation.
No guilty plea in sports betting probe
In December 2022, Puig decided he would no longer plead guilty.
“I want to clear my name,” Puig said at the time. “I never should have agreed to plead guilty to a crime I did not commit.”
Attorney Keri Axel explained then:
“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. We had reviewed the evidence, including significant new information, and have serious concerns about the allegations made against Yasiel.”
Sports betting probe history
Per the US Justice Department, Puig racked up $282,900 in gambling debts to Wayne Nix’s illegal enterprise by June 2019.
A dispute ensued over the balance owed. However, Puig was allowed to bet again after paying Nix the outstanding $200,000.
From July 4, 2019 to Sept. 29, 2019, Puig placed 899 more wagers on tennis, football and basketball games through Nix-run sports gambling websites.
Nix has pleaded guilty 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 slated for June 7.