Jose Abreu to jury: I ate fake passport on way to U.S.
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Slugger Jose Abreu went to great lengths and endured some harrowing experiences to play baseball for the White Sox, including a scary 12-hour ride on a small boat with family members from Cuba to Haiti nearly four years ago.
Testifying Wednesday in federal court in Miami at the trial of two people accused of alien smuggling and conspiracy, Abreu shed even more light on what he went through to defect from his home country to the United States. He told jurors he ate a chunk of a fake passport on an airline flight to the United States.
Abreu said he anxiously was trying to cover his illegal travel as part of a smuggling operation for Cuban players.
On a flight from Haiti to Miami, Abreu slowly consumed the page containing a false name and his photo, washing it down with a Heineken beer he had ordered. Abreu said he was traveling illegally because he was worried about missing an October 2013 deadline and losing a $68 million contract offer the Sox had on the table.
‘‘If I had not been there on that particular day, the deadline, then the contract would not be executed and would no longer be valid,’’ Abreu told jurors. ‘‘We had to be in Chicago to sign the contract.’’
Abreu, 30, isn’t accused of wrongdoing in the case. On trial are Florida-based sports agent Bartolo Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada, who are accused of running a smuggling ring that ushered Cuban-born players illegally into the United States via a third country, where they could sign major-league contracts after establishing residency.
Abreu, who is expected to testify again Thursday, won’t be prosecuted if he tells the truth on the stand. He testified under a grant of limited immunity for his illegal conduct. Other Cuban players, including Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and Mariners outfielder Leonys Martin, also have testified, and more are expected to.
Abreu, the American League Rookie of the Year in 2014, has produced three consecutive seasons of 30-plus doubles, 25 or more home runs and 100 or more RBI, the first Sox player to accomplish that feat. After hitting a homer against the Cubs in the Sox’ Cactus League game Monday, Abreu left for Miami to testify. The Sox said they are expecting Abreu to return to the team late Thursday.
Abreu told jurors he got the fake passport in Haiti, where he had been taken from Cuba on that boat in August 2013. He said his main contact and fixer there was Amin Latouff, who was indicted with Hernandez and Estrada but hasn’t been arrested.
Latouff got the passport and booked the flight, Abreu said, telling him to destroy the document on the plane. Abreu said he chewed it up in his seat.
‘‘Little by little, I swallowed that first page of the passport,’’ he said. ‘‘I could not arrive in the United States with a false passport.’’
When Abreu first joined the Sox, he was close to Estrada and often was seen in his company. He testified that Hernandez and his partners negotiated his deal with the Sox and that Estrada oversaw his training, lodging and other needs when he was in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Estrada’s company, Total Baseball, was to be paid 20 percent of Abreu’s contract, and Hernandez was to receive 5 percent.
Abreu paid at least $5.8 million to them in 2014, prosecutors say.
Abreu said that it was his idea to get the illegal travel document and that he asked Latouff for help.
‘‘I trusted that he was someone who could help me, and I confided in him that secret,’’ Abreu testified.
The trial has lasted about a month and is expected to continue for a few more weeks.
Contributing: Associated Press
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