The Washington Times - April 27, 2011, 10:48PM

The news came out Wednesday that Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez is the target of a federal money laundering probe in connection with a convicted drug kingpin in Puerto Rico.

As you can read in The Washington Times’ story on this topic (linked above), Hernandez is suspected of being a “straw buyer” for Puerto Rican drug lord Angel Ayala Vazquez who was convicted recently of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin and pills at public housing projects in Bayamon, Puerto Rico. Vazquez’s operation was considered the most powerful drug trafficking organization in Puerto Rico. He is set to be sentenced Aug. 9.

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A Lamborghini, Porsche and Puerto Rico warehouse containing a recording studio, car repair shop and gym were found to be in Hernandez’s name but actually belonging to Vazquez, leading to inquiries into whether Hernandez served as a money launderer for Vazquez. Hernandez’s name was brought up “several times,” according to sources, during the trial that convicted Vazquez.

So, without rehashing too many of the details that can be found in the story on the main site, here’s a shot at explaining both the allegations against the Nationals right-hander and what happens from here.

First, the facts: When Vazquez was taken under arrest in 2009, thus ending a seven-year investigation of the drug trafficker, his indictment contained additional allegations that the defendants (of which there were 65) and their co-conspirators would “attempt to disguise the true nature of their narcotics proceeds by purchasing legitimate assets, including real estate properties, race cars, motor vehicles, vessels and businesses through the use of “straw owners,” in order to conceal the true ownership of the assets and the illegal source of the funds used to make the purchases.”

This is exactly what Hernandez is being investigated by federal authorities for, according to a high-ranking federal law enforcement official with knowledge of the case. The cars and real estate were allegedly purchased in either Hernandez’s name or by him in another name with Vazquez’s money and, if Hernandez made those purchases with Vazquez’s ill-gotten funds knowingly, it puts him squarely in the middle.

What this means: According to the federal law enforcement source, Hernandez is officially a “target” in the probe. There are apparently three levels for persons of interest in federal examinations: a focus, a subject and a target — a target being the most advanced level.

This means that Hernandez has been advised that he is under federal investigation. This advisement can come personally or by official “target letter” but either way it means that things are in an advanced stage and Hernandez is aware of the federal activity surrounding his purchases.

– Major League Baseball is aware of the investigation and is cooperating with authorities in Puerto Rico. An MLB official is expected to arrive in Puerto Rico in two weeks to review the evidence against Hernandez in person and, according to an MLB spokesman, the league is working with federal authorities and will continue to do so. 

Most likely, MLB will wait for the federal investigation to be completed before reviewing its findings and then making a decision on whether or not those findings will affect Hernandez’s baseball career. 

One source indicated that, as of right now, Hernandez is not accused of being involved at all in any drug-related activity and is simply being examined for his involvement on the monetary side of things.

– It is unclear as to whether or not Hernandez could be facing criminal charges. Special counsel to the U.S. Attorney in Puerto Rico Jaqueline Novas said that any talk of criminal charges was “getting ahead” of where investigators were currently at but it’s not a stretch to say that these are serious allegations.

Where Hernandez goes from here: Sources told The Washington Times that Hernandez testified before a grand jury in Vazquez’s case and the Puerto Rican news outlet El Vocero was reporting that that took place in 2009, a season Hernandez spent mostly with the New York Mets before being released Aug. 20 and signing with the Nationals six days later.

He’s been with the Nationals ever since, re-signing on two different one-year deals as a free agent. He just made his 450th consecutive start — a mark of durability that leads all active pitchers in the major leagues.

He’s still scheduled to make his next start, Thursday night against the Mets at Nationals Park. All signs indicate that the Nationals, Hernandez and MLB are cooperating with investigators as they look into this issue.

It bears mentioning that Hernandez is one of the most popular players in the Nationals’ clubhouse. He’s looked to as a leader, he shares his exceptional knowledge of the game and of pitching with what is, on the whole, an incredibly youthful pitching staff and it’s easy to see that there’s a lot of respect sent his way when it comes to his abilities in the game.

When Hernandez heard that Dominican prospect Yewri Guillen had passed away of bacterial meningitis two weeks ago, he was reportedly the one to initiate a team meeting and donated a large sum of money to begin a collection among his teammates that the Nationals sent to Guillen’s family. 

None of that means that Hernandez isn’t involved in what the federal authorities are alleging he is, but there’s a reason that Hernandez is held in such high regard in the Nationals’ organization and in this area — and why these allegations are so shocking.