A former Chicago White Sox scout pleaded guilty in a U.S. case accusing him and two other ex-employees of the Major League Baseball team of conspiring to take kickbacks from players signed in Latin America.
Victor Mateo, 40, admitted to a single mail fraud count today before U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle in Chicago. About three hours earlier, in his first court appearance since being indicted in November, Mateo pleaded not guilty.
“What have you then decided to do?” Norgle asked Mateo, who was born in the Dominican Republic, through an interpreter after Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Veatch read the allegations aloud in court.
“Plead guilty,” Mateo replied.
Mateo, along with David Wilder, the team’s former player personnel director, and Latin American scout Jorge Oquendo Rivera were indicted on charges they conspired to take team money intended to finance player signing bonuses and purchase contracts.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in Chicago said in a statement announcing the charges in November that the men took about $400,000 in transactions involving 23 players from December 2004 to February 2008. The players haven’t been identified.
The team won MLB’s World Series championship in 2005.
Mail fraud is punishable by as long as 20 years in prison. Today, Norgle deferred setting a sentencing date after Veatch told him that Mateo is a cooperating witness in the case.
Mateo, who was released on bond, is allowed to leave the country, said his lawyer, Damon Cheronis.
Wilder last month pleaded guilty to one of the seven mail fraud counts he faced in the case, admitting he took a kickback of more than $20,000 from a player in Brazil who had been asked by a team scout to remit part of a $300,000 signing bonus.
Oquendo pleaded not guilty in November. According to Wilder’s plea agreement, Oquendo made the Brazilian kickback arrangements.
Mateo today affirmed Veatch’s representation that Oquendo had hired him to scout for the team in the Dominican Republic and that as a condition of that employment, Mateo paid his supervisor every third paycheck received from the White Sox.
Mateo remitted about $85,000 in signing bonus kickbacks to Oquendo and Wilder, according to his plea agreement.
“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 in a statement in November. Oquendo was fired in 2007 for reasons unrelated to the probe, the team said.
“The Chicago White Sox are pleased that Victor Mateo’s case has been resolved with his admission of guilt today and that he will face responsibility for his crimes,” Scott Reifert, a team spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement.
Oquendo’s lawyer, Luis Rafael Rivera of San Juan, Puerto Rico, didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment.
The case is U.S. v. Wilder, 1:10-cr-00948, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).