Feb. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Former Chicago White Sox executive David Wilder pleaded guilty to a crime arising from federal charges that he took $402,000 in kickbacks from Latin American baseball players as they were signed to professional contracts.
Wilder, who worked for the Major League Baseball team for five years as director of its player development system and then as its senior director of player personnel, admitted to one count of mail fraud today before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle in Chicago.
“I understand what I’ve done,” Wilder told the judge as he entered his plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Veatch, reading from a plea agreement, told the judge that Wilder received a kickback of more than $20,000 from a player in Brazil who was asked by one of the team’s Latin America scouts to remit part of a $300,000 signing bonus paid by the team. The kickback would have been $50,000 if the team hadn’t subtracted taxes from the bonus check, Veatch said.
Wilder, 50, was indicted in November on seven counts of mail fraud, each punishable by as long as 20 years in prison. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said then that the former executive and two regional scouts misled the team about the amount of money needed to sign 23 prospective players from 2004 to 2008. The 23 players haven’t been identified.
The White Sox won Major League Baseball’s World Series championship in 2005.
“The defendants were supposed to recruit players by paying amounts of money that matched their skills and were no greater than the amount needed to sign the players,” Fitzgerald said. “Instead the indictment alleges the defendants secretly inflated those signing amounts to fund kickbacks for themselves.”
Also charged with seven mail fraud counts was Latin American scout Jorge L. Oquendo Rivera, who pleaded not guilty before Norgle in November. Oquendo made the Brazilian kickback arrangements, according to Wilder’s plea agreement.
The third defendant, Dominican Republic scout Victor Mateo, faces three mail fraud counts. He is a fugitive and hasn’t been arraigned.
Wilder’s co-defendants took kickbacks independent of the sum he received, according to the plea agreement. They also solicited payments from Mexican teams from whom the White Sox sought to acquire rights to players.
Wilder, Mateo, Oquendo
“Wilder and Mateo were terminated by the White Sox in May 2008 as a result of a Major League Baseball investigation which began at the request of the team,” the White Sox said Nov. 10 in a statement.
Oquendo was fired in 2007 for reasons unrelated to the probe, the team said.
“The Chicago White Sox are gratified but also saddened by today’s admission of guilt” by Wilder, the team said in an e-mailed statement.
“We are pleased that his case has been resolved and that he will face responsibility for his crimes, but we also remain saddened by the betrayal of trust, the involvement of innocent players, the abuse of the system, and the impact his criminal actions inflicted on this organization,” the White Sox said.
The franchise previously said that it and Major League Baseball cooperated in the federal probe, after the White Sox reported its internal findings to baseball officials.
“Mr. Wilder accepts responsibility for his actions,” said defense lawyer, Thomas Bienert of San Clemente, California. “He deeply regrets what he did and is extremely sorry.”
The former White Sox executive will cooperate with prosecutors in the continuing probe, according to his agreement. In exchange for that cooperation, Fitzgerald’s office will ask the court to impose a sentence of about 24 months.
Wilder, who lives in San Francisco, is free on bail. He declined to talk to reporters after the hearing. The judge hasn’t set a sentencing date.
Bienert said his client, a former minor league ballplayer, hoped to be able to work in professional baseball again, a prospect the lawyer called “an uncertainty.”
“He would have to prove himself,” Bienert said.
The case is U.S. v. Wilder, 1:10-cr-00948, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).
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