White Sox

White Sox slugger Jose Abreu testifies in Cuban ballplayer smuggling operation trial

White Sox

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Abreu's inflight snack on his first trip to the United States apparently was more than a bag of peanuts.

Away from the club on "personal business," the White Sox first baseman testified to a Miami federal jury on Wednesday that he swallowed part of a fake passport while flying to the U.S. to conceal his illegal travel via a Cuban ballplayer smuggling operation, according to the Associated Press.

While aboard an Air France flight from Haiti to Miami, Abreu said he ordered a beer and ate the page, which included a fake name with his photo.

Abreu — who never had previously revealed how he arrived in the U.S. other than to say he escaped Cuba with his family in a small boat in August 2013 — chose to travel illegally so he wouldn't miss an October 2013 deadline to sign with the White Sox. The 2014 American League rookie of the year arrived in time and inked a club-record, six-year, $68-million deal with the White Sox. Abreu, who left the team after Monday's game against the Cubs to travel to Miami, was originally expected to return to the White Sox at some point on Wednesday.

The team announced Wednesday that Abreu will testify again on Thursday before returning to Arizona. He's expected to rejoin the club on Friday.

"If I had not been there on that particular day, the deadline, then the contract would not be executed and would no longer be valid," Abreu said through an interpreter. "We had to be in Chicago to sign the contract."

 

Abreu reportedly testified under a grant of limited immunity for his illegal travels, which means he won't be prosecuted for truthful testimony. He testified at the trial of Bartolo Hernandez, a Florida-based sports agent, and baseball trainer Julio Estrada. Estrada was close with Abreu, traveling with his parents to Minneapolis in July 2014 so they could attend the All-Star Game.

The two are on trial for alien smuggling and conspiracy. They operated a ring that helped Cuban players establish residency in other countries in order to be able to sign deals with Major League Baseball teams.

The Miami Marlins' Adeiny Hechavarria and Seattle Mariners' Leonys Martin also testified in the trial.

Abreu received the fake passport in Haiti after he and his family arrived in August 2013. He testified that his main contact in Haiti was a man named Amin Latouff, who has escaped arrest since he was indicted along with Hernandez and Estrada.

Abreu said Latouff helped him procure the passport and booked his flight to the U.S. He told Abreu to destroy the document once he boarded the plane. But rather than rip up the paperwork and throw it away, Abreu opted to eat the document while drinking a beer.

"Little by little I swallowed that first page of the passport," Abreu said. "I could not arrive in the United States with a false passport."

After he arrived, Abreu was able to remain in Miami because of the "wet-foot, dry-foot" immigration policy that allows Cubans to stay if they reach American soil even without having proper travel documents. Former President Barack Obama has since rescinded the policy.

While in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Abreu trained with Estrada while Hernandez negotiated a contract with the White Sox. According to the AP, Estrada's company, Total Baseball, was to receive 20 percent of Abreu's contract and Hernandez was to earn 5 percent.

Abreu testified that he alone wanted to acquire the Haitian passport and asked Latouff to help him with the process. The trial is expected to last several more weeks.
 
The Associated Press contributed to this story