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Baseball agent gets 5 years for smuggling


MrAndMrsFish
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By Jay Weaver and Cammy Clark

jweaver@miamiherald.com

 

KEY WEST -- When major league baseball agent Gustavo ''Gus'' Dominguez stood for sentencing in federal court Monday, he had a legend pulling for him: Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax.Yet the plea for leniency from Koufax, 71, and a handful of current and former players could help Dominguez only so much on his judgment day for his conviction on alien smuggling charges.

 

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore handed Dominguez five years in prison, the mandatory minimum. Though Dominguez could have faced up to 20 years, the sentence represented a harsh fall for an agent who rubbed shoulders with baseball's finest.

 

The silver-haired Dominguez, dressed in a dark suit, fought tears and choked through his words in federal court in Key West.

 

''I hope the court will take into consideration that I never, ever have broken the law in my whole life,'' Dominguez, 48, said.

 

Dominguez must surrender on Sept. 7 to federal prison authorities in California. But his poor financial status spared him from paying a fine as high as $250,000. His lawyer, Ben Kuehne, also asked the judge to put him in an alcohol rehab program because he developed a drinking problem stemming from his legal ordeal.

 

His once-lucrative career as a California agent for Cuban baseball prospects and other players came tumbling down when he was convicted in April on 21 counts of alien smuggling from his native Cuba.

 

ACROSS STRAITS

 

Prosecutors accused Dominguez of financing two trips in go-fast boats across the Florida Straits -- the first was interdicted in July 2004, but the second successfully reached Big Pine Key the following month with five Cuban ballplayers on board.

 

Koufax's letter was among dozens written for the sentencing hearing by Dominguez's relatives, friends and sports industry colleagues, who praised him as a man who fled Cuba with his family after the Castro revolution and built up a quality life.

 

Koufax, a southpaw and three-time Cy Young winner while pitching for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1950s and 1960s, met Dominguez through friends at the Dodgers training camp in Vero Beach.

 

''I have always considered Gus to be a person of strong character and high moral principles,'' Koufax wrote. ``He has an unshakable love for his culture and does his best to serve as a role model to the players he represents, especially Latin players.''

 

Dominguez's defense team said the agent asked his old friend to travel from Southern California for the sentencing -- but he could not make the trip. Koufax, ranked 26th among The Sporting News' ''100 Greatest Baseball Players,'' instead wrote the letter.

 

Before Dominguez was sentenced, he kissed his wife of 28 years and his adult daughter. He put his hand on the shoulder of his adult son, then walked to the defendant's table. After the sentencing, his wife left the courtroom in tears.

 

In the smuggling case, three others accepted plea deals for lighter sentences. Another testified against Dominguez and smuggling charges were dropped. And a last defendant, the boat driver, was found not guilty.

 

''Unfair? I don't know,'' Dominguez said outside court. ``Right now my head is a little much in a daze.''

 

Dominguez, who co-founded the California agency Total Sports International with former Dodger Ron Cey and attorney Steven Schneider, said he did not make any money on the five prospects. Cey was among others to write on his behalf.

 

At trial, prosecutors said Dominguez wired $225,000 to a convicted drug-trafficker, Ysbel Medina, through the bank account of a client, Chicago Cubs catcher Henry Blanco. Blanco, who also wrote a letter of leniency to the judge, testified that he did not know about the transactions until being called by a grand jury.

 

The trafficker used part of the money for the smuggling ventures.

 

PARENTS IN NEED

 

On Monday, Dominguez told the judge he's the primary caretaker of his paraplegic 80-year-old father, Fernando, and his invalid 74-year-old mother, Rosa.

 

'I personalized and signed a baseball for Gus' father and Gus has always reminded me in the years that followed how much his father treasures his personalized baseball,'' wrote Koufax, who once traveled to Cuba for an exhibition game.

 

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Hmmm.....I wonder how this will effect the negotiations between the Marlins and first-round pick Matt Dominguez, who is the nephew and is represented by his uncle.....

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