The plundering of Latin America wasn’t Major League Baseball’s original sin. It’s simply the one that has festered the longest. Corruption of all kinds – illicit payoffs, bonus-money skimming, doping teenagers with performance-enhancing drugs – has been treated as the cost of doing business. And the fallout may finally strike the game with the sort of consequences that for decades have seemed inevitable.
A federal grand jury is looking into Major League Baseball teams’ international dealings and has issued subpoenas to club officials and other personnel involved in the transactions, three sources familiar with the probe told Yahoo Sports. Agents from the FBI have spearheaded the investigation, according to sources familiar with it, and lawyers from the Department of Justice who specialize in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases – which typically involve bribery of foreign officials – are involved as well.
While the target of the inquiry could not be confirmed by Yahoo Sports, sources said investigators have subpoenaed at least one former Atlanta Braves official as well as people involved with the signing of Cuban star Hector Olivera, who agreed to a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers before being traded to the Braves. Multiple witnesses have agreed to cooperate with the investigation, according to sources.
Just how deep the case goes is unclear. MLB’s business in Latin America is expansive. All 30 teams have academies in the Dominican Republic and regularly scout players from Venezuela. They spend well over $100 million a year on international amateur talent. Most of the players are 16 years old and have trained since before they were teenagers in hopes of fetching large signing bonuses on July 2, the first day of the international signing period.
The potential threads to investigate are almost limitless. Front-office officials have been sent to prison for schemes in which they skimmed money from signing bonuses. An agent last year was convicted for smuggling Cuban players, which has happened regularly over the last decade and went unregulated by the league. Other agents are alleged to have paid players to steal them as clients from competitors, an issue that directly affects the MLB Players Association.