- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2000

The Justice Department is investigating the Baltimore Orioles' policy of refusing to sign players who defect from Cuba, The Washington Times has learned.
Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben confirmed that an investigation is under way in a letter sent last week to Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, and obtained by The Times yesterday.
The Justice Department has "opened an independent investigation of the Baltimore Orioles to determine whether the alleged player hiring policies and practices violate the prohibition against citizenship status discrimination," Mr. Raben wrote.
Mr. Raben's letter was in response to a request that Mr. Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made in May for Justice to investigate the matter. Mr. Helms said the Orioles may be violating federal employment and immigration laws that prohibit denying employment on the basis of national origin and citizenship status.
The investigation is being conducted by the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices.
"Unfortunately, for [Orioles owner Peter] Angelos, being friends in this country with Fidel Castro doesn't put you above the law," said Marc Thiessen, spokesman for Mr. Helms. "Mr. Angelos is an attorney. He should know the law."
Mr. Angelos was unavailable for comment yesterday.
The Justice Department investigation will center on whether the Orioles are violating the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which makes it illegal to deny employment to aliens, including defectors, authorized to work in the United States on the basis of citizenship status.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, would handle an investigation of discrimination on the basis of national origin. The EEOC by law cannot confirm or deny whether it is conducting an investigation of the Orioles or whether a complaint has been filed.
Judicial Watch, a District of Columbia-based public interest law firm, said it filed a complaint regarding the Orioles with the EEOC in May.
The Times first reported the policy, which stems from a historic two-game series between the Orioles and the Cuban national team last year in Havana and Baltimore, on May 17.
"It's not really a policy, as much as a philosophy against doing it," said Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations.
"After the good will created between the two countries by the visit, we, Mr. Angelos in particular, feel it best to not do anything that could be interpreted [by Cuba] as being disrespectful, or … encouraging players," to defect.
The policy also was confirmed by Bill Stetka, the Orioles' director of public relations, and by high-ranking officials on the team's business side.
The Orioles are the only major league club that has taken such a position.
Mr. Angelos later sought to back away from Mr. Thrift's statements, saying his only intention is to not encourage players to defect.
The Justice Department investigation is the most significant look into the policy to date, but it is not the first.
Besides the EEOC complaint filed by Judicial Watch, baseball commissioner Bud Selig said last month his office is conducting an internal inquiry into the matter.
No results have been announced.
Major League Baseball officials were not available for comment last night.

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