- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

VIERA, Fla. | Washington Nationals team president Stan Kasten believes his organization was the victim of “deliberate, premeditated fraud” that involved a top prospect from the Dominican Republic creating a false identity to secure a $1.4 million signing bonus three years ago.

That player, who has been going by the name Esmailyn Gonzalez and was thought to be 19, has been discovered to be 23-year-old Carlos Daniel Alvarez Lugo through an investigation conducted by Major League Baseball and instigated by the Nationals in late 2006.

“I’m very angry. We’ve been defrauded,” Kasten said during a conference call from the District. “And make no mistake: This wasn’t a college kid with a fake ID that came in and did this. This was a deliberate, premeditated fraud with a lot more to this story, and we are going to get to the bottom of it. There were many, many people involved in this premeditated fraud.”

Citing the ongoing investigation, Kasten said he couldn’t get into specifics, but he wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Nationals employees were involved in the scheme.

“I’m going to let all conclusions be reached,” he said. “I want it pursued to the very end. The chips will fall where they may. I just want to uncover everything I can possibly uncover.”

Nationals general manager Jim Bowden and special assistant Jose Rijo’s names have been linked before with an overarching investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses of Dominican players by officials from several major league clubs. Bowden was interviewed by the FBI in July as part of the inquiry and has denied any wrongdoing all along.

Bowden did not respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday. Rijo, who owns an academy the Nationals use as their Dominican base and who was instrumental in the Nationals’ signing of Gonzalez, declined to discuss the case Wednesday morning after team officials instructed all personnel not to comment. Earlier in the day, he told reporters: “I don’t know what to believe. I don’t want to say any more. I don’t want to jeopardize the investigation.”

A league spokesman said the league was not yet at a point in its investigation that it could comment.

SI.com first reported Gonzalez’s true identity in a report Wednesday morning.

Gonzalez’s signing in 2006 was hailed by the Nationals as a major event and an indication of the franchise’s intent to become a leader in the scouting and signing of top Latin American talent. Bowden and Kasten, who along with the Lerner family had been awarded ownership of the franchise only recently, applauded the work of the club’s scouting department for discovering and signing the player.

Rijo, in particular, was lauded for helping finalize the deal with Basilio Vizcaino, the Dominican “buscon” - a term roughly equivalent to player agent - who handled the negotiations on Gonzalez’s side in exchange for a percentage of the signing bonus. Rijo and Vizcaino are reported to be childhood friends.

Despite the attention lavished upon him by the Nationals, the switch-hitting shortstop was deemed by other scouts as unworthy of the large signing bonus he received. One former member of the Washington organization Wednesday recalled watching Gonzalez take batting practice at RFK Stadium following his signing and coming away unimpressed.

“I thought: This is the guy we just gave all that money to?” the former employee said.

Gonzalez struggled in his first full season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League before returning last year to win the league’s batting title with a .343 average.

Had he been 19 as originally believed, Gonzalez’s performance would have been considered impressive. But at 23, he would have been as many as five or six years older than his competition, lessening the accomplishment.

Nationals minor league position players are scheduled to report to spring training March 13. Kasten said the player now being referred to as Carlos Alvarez has secured a new passport and is likely to be granted a work visa.

“Do I know what his future holds as a baseball player? I don’t,” Kasten said. “I would say clearly he remains a prospect, but I would say a very different kind of prospect today.”

Kasten said the scheme to create the player’s new identity was too elaborate for a teenager to concoct and was put together by a number of people who falsified hospital and school documents, got other family members to change their identities and paid off bribes.

The Nationals previously listed Esmailyn Gonzalez’s date of birth as Sept. 21, 1989. Kasten said Carlos Alvarez was born in November 1985.

“When you learn the lengths these participants went to perpetrate this fraud, you’re going to be amazed,” Kasten said, adding that “this is going to have serious repercussions.”

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