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Nats’ Hernandez looked at for possible money laundering

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Washington Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez is a target of a federal money-laundering probe in connection with a convicted drug kingpin in Puerto Rico, a high-ranking federal law enforcement source told The Washington Times.

Hernandez had cars and real estate in his name that were actually owned by Angel Ayala Vazquez, according to Jacqueline Novas, special counsel to the U.S. attorney in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Property found in Hernandez's name included a Lamborghini, a Porsche and a warehouse in Puerto Rico that housed a recording studio, car-repair shop and gym.)

"We're looking into people who assisted with money laundering," Ms. Novas told The Washington Times on Wednesday. "[Hernandez's] name came up during the trial several times."

Major League Baseball is sending officials to Puerto Rico in two weeks to review the evidence against Hernandez, Ms. Novas said. MLB coordinated with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration when it began reading reports about Vazquez's case.

"We've been working with the federal authorities involved in this case and will continue to work with them," MLB said in a statement.

Hernandez was not available for comment before Wednesday's game at Nationals Park and directed all questions to the Nationals' public relations department.

Vazquez, also known as Angelo Millones and "El Buster," was arrested in 2009 after a seven-year investigation and was convicted recently of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin and pills at public housing projects in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

According to the DEA, Vazquez was the leader of the most powerful drug-trafficking organization in Puerto Rico. His sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 9, and Hernandez's name surfaced during the trial leading to Vazquez's conviction.

Hernandez is suspected of being a "straw buyer" for Vazquez, the law enforcement source said.

Being a straw buyer means Hernandez purchased things for Vazquez using his own name or another name. If he did so knowingly, it would put him in the middle of the drug lord's money and the purchases.

While Ms. Novas said Hernandez is one of at least four notable people authorities are examining, he is the only major league baseball player connected to Vazquez.

Recording artists Elvis Crespo, Daddy Yankee and Wisin y Yandel are reportedly also among those being looked at. Ms. Novas said Vazquez paid the performers large sums of cash to perform at concerts in Puerto Rico.

According to the law enforcement source, Hernandez testified before a grand jury in the case and has been advised by authorities that he is under investigation.

The investigation is a joint effort between the FBI and the DEA.

The Internal Revenue Service defines money laundering as the "activities and financial transactions that are undertaken specifically to hide the true source of the money. In most cases, the money involved is earned from an illegal enterprise and the goal is to give that money the appearance of coming from a legitimate source." The property belonging to Vazquez alleged to be in Hernandez's name would fall under those terms.

It was unclear whether the pitcher could face criminal charges - a predicament Ms. Novas cautioned was ahead of where authorities are. There is no timetable to complete the investigation.

"It would have to be presented to a grand jury," Ms. Novas said. "And he'd have to go through the whole process."

Hernandez, who is scheduled to start for the Nationals on Thursday night against the New York Mets, is 2-2 with a 3.48 ERA in five starts this season.

"The Nationals are aware of and continue to monitor the situation as it pertains to the Angel Ayala Vazquez trial in Puerto Rico," said Nationals spokesman John Dever.

This is not the first time Hernandez, who defected from Cuba in 1995 and led the Florida Marlins to a World Series title less than two full years later in 1997, has been in trouble with the law.

In 2003, while a member of the San Francisco Giants, Hernandez was arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault. He was accused of trying to strike a 65-year-old man with a golf club outside a Miami warehouse. The case was settled out of court. According to an Associated Press report on the settlement, the charges were dropped on the condition that Hernandez attend anger management classes, perform 50 hours of community service and donate $500 to charity.

He was charged with simple battery in 1998 when his girlfriend at the time filed a complaint that Hernandez beat her and ripped off her necklace. According to the AP, that charge also was dropped after Hernandez participated in anger management, along with a pretrial intervention program.

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