- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2009


Washington Nationals team president Stan Kasten may have no more to say about the Smiley Gonzalez scandal, and he may have imposed a gag order on general manager Jim Bowden and others not to discuss it.

But the Nationals’ code of silence does not extend to the Dominican Republic or to Basilio Vizcaino - the “buscon” who helped broker the high-profile, $1.4 million deal in 2006 with the Nationals to sign Esmailyn “Smiley” Gonzalez - who it was revealed last week is four years older than they thought with a completely different identity.

Vizcaino, in a telephone interview, made the case that when it comes to placing blame in the embarrassing deal that is being investigated by both Major League Baseball and federal authorities, there is a long list of victims who were duped by the player who turned out to be Carlos Alvarez Daniel Lugo - and 23 years old instead of 19.

The biggest sucker may have been Major League Baseball itself.

Vizcaino said five different major league teams, including the Nationals, had interest in signing Alvarez in 2005 - when he was believed to be 16 - and asked MLB’s Dominican office to conduct an identity check on the player.

“He passed the check for all five,” said Vizcaino, who as a buscon works with young amateur players in the Dominican Republic in exchange for a percentage of future signing bonuses.

At the same time baseball discovered problems in the Smiley Gonzalez deal last year, the Major League Baseball investigators who had been in the Dominican baseball operation, responsible for these identification checks, were all fired “for the quality of their work,” according to a baseball source.

Baseball now has created a separate investigative unit - sort of a baseball FBI - that came out of the 2007 Mitchell Report on steroids, and that unit is involved in the Smiley Gonzalez probe.

Foreign-born players lying about their age is hardly anything new in baseball. It’s almost part of the game’s lore.

But two things separate the Smiley Gonzalez case from many of the others.

One is the elaborate scheme behind creating Smiley Gonzalez. It included actually manufacturing a fake family, almost like a Dominican version of “The Truman Show.” It had to be, if Vizcaino - who Alvarez lived with for several years - is to be believed about his lack of knowledge of the con.

The second is the question of how much, if any, of the $1.4 million may have been pocketed by anyone connected with the Nationals. That is why this has become a high-profile case and drawn the attention of federal investigators, particularly in the aftermath of the case involving a former White Sox scout last year who was accused of skimming bonus money from prospects and teams.

Vizcaino claims no one took any of the money, which baseball investigators could not locate. He said the money went to real members of Alvarez’s family and not to any of those involved who purported to be his real family.

“The family that said they were Smiley’s did not get any money,” Vizcaino said.

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