Court of Appeals affirms part of case involving plan to smuggle potential baseball players into the U.S. from Cuba

November 7, 2011 by Paul Kish

In a case arising out of south Florida and its proximity with Cuba, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed parts of a case involving a plan to smuggle potential baseball players into the United States. Besides being an interesting view into the modern methods of stocking a Major League Baseball franchise, the case also contains lessons for lawyers and employers. As we are seeing in our immigration crimes practice, more and more employers run into the danger of a potential federal criminal prosecution whenever the employer communicates with or hires a person from another country.

The case is United States v. Gustavo Dominguez. Mr. Dominguez is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Cuba. Mr. Dominguez has represented numerous Cuban nationals who came to this country and later became professional baseball players. The government's theory was that Dominguez conspired with others who smuggled the potential players into this country, with the goal of later representing the players if and when they were snapped up by a Major League franchise. The players were taken to California where Dominguez got an experienced immigration attorney to help them work through the immigration process. The trip to California and the immigration applications led to charges of transporting illegal aliens and concealing or harboring them in this country.

The jury found Mr. Dominguez guilty of conspiring with and aiding others who smuggled the players into the country. Additionally, the jury held that Dominguez was guilty of helping to transport the Cuban players from Florida to California and also found him guilty of harboring or concealing these same players. The majority of the Court of Appeals Panel reversed the convictions relating to transporting and concealing the players. Basically, the majority held that by taking the players to an attorney Dominguez could not be guilty. Oddly, the majority affirmed the convictions for smuggling these same players.

Judge Tjoflat wrote a spirited dissent. He explained that the trial court's rulings basically required that someone in Mr. Dominguez's situation needed the sophistication of a "Philadelphia lawyer" in order to wade through issues related to people who enter this country from Cuba, related to the "wet foot-dry foot" policies that apply solely to immigrants from this one country. According to Judge Tjoflat, Dominguez should receive a new trial where he can present testimony concerning this policy and his state of mind.

We represent several employers either charged or threatened with indictment for employing persons from other countries who turn out to be here illegally. This case is just the most recent illustration of how federal immigration policy often intersects with the law involving defending a person against a federal criminal prosecution.