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12/04/13 - Miami Herald - Feds charge trio with kidnapping, extorting Cuban ballplayer with Texas Rangers

Leonys Martin Tapanes seemed like yet another Cuban baseball player with
tremendous promise when he signed a $15.5 million contract with the Texas
Rangers in 2011.

But there apparently is a darker story behind Martin's climb from poverty
to Major League Baseball success.

The U.S. attorney's office in Miami on Wednesday charged three people -
Eliezer Lazo, 40, formerly of Miami Lakes, Joel Martinez Hernandez, 37,
formerly of Miami-Dade, and Yilian Hernandez, 30, of Hialeah - with
conspiring to smuggle, kidnap and extort the 25-year-old outfielder.

The trio are also charged with smuggling 13 other Cuban baseball prospects
to the United States - all of them coming from Cuba to Mexico and then into
the United States.

Yilian Hernandez was arrested by Homeland Security and FBI agents on
Wednesday. Lazo and Martinez are currently serving respective prison
sentences of five and seven years for 2012 money-laundering convictions
related to Medicare fraud.

In announcing the case in a news release, prosecutors cited a civil lawsuit
filed by Estrellas del Beisbol, but provided few details.

The Mexican company, in which Lazo and Martinez had a stake, became
Martin's baseball management agency after he was smuggled into Mexico. But
last year, Estrellas del Beisbol filed a lawsuit against Martin in Broward
Circuit Court, accusing him of violating his contract for failing to pay
their company up to 30 percent of his salary from his multi-year deal with
the Texas Rangers. The suit says Martin paid the Mexican company $1.2
million in 2011, but still owes more money under their agreement.

In a countersuit, Martin accused Lazo, Martinez and others of an "illegal
scheme" involving smuggling him and his family out of Cuba into Mexico in
2010 and holding all of them "hostage" until Martin obtained a Major League
contract and could pay them a "ransom."

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