White Sox star and Cuban defector José Abreu came to the United States as part of a smuggling operation that transported peloteros from the island nation to the United States via Central American and Caribbean countries. On Wednesday, Abreu testified in the trial of the ringleaders of that operation, sports agent Bartolo Hernandez and baseball trainer Julio Estrada. Aside from confirming that Hernandez and Estrada helped orchestrate his signing with the Chicago White Sox in October of 2013, Abreu also added the another truly bizarre chapter to this already month-long trial.
During his flight from Haiti to Miami– where he would gain “wet-foot dry-foot” immunity upon landing, even with no travel documents– Abreu had an unusual airplane snack to go with his Heineken beer: a page of his false passport. “Little by little I swallowed that first page of the passport. I could not arrive in the United States with a false passport,” said Abreu, further stating that he had to be in Chicago by a certain date or the $68 million contract that he eventually signed would be null.
In other relevant testimony, Abreu confirmed that Hernandez received 5% of the initial contract, while Estrada and his company, Total Baseball, would take home a whopping 20%. He also singled out alleged co-conspirator Amin Latouff (who has not been arrested yet) as his main contact and the man who had the idea to destroy the fake passport page on the airplane.
The trial of Hernandez and Estrada is expected to last several more weeks, as the extent of their operation is slowly discovered. Previously, Major League Baseball players Adeiny Hechaverria and Leonys Martin had testified against the two men as part of a suit filed by over a dozen players in 2012. As part of the smuggling, Hernandez set up fake jobs for players in the intermediary countries as a way to establish residency before moving them into the United States. Jorge Padron, another player smuggled in who signed with the Boston Red Sox, testified that he was told his new job was “independent tinsmith,” a job he never worked at. Padron said that “it was like a joke among us.”