LYNN NEARY, HOST:
It was the lure of money in Major League Baseball that landed a Florida Marlins pitcher in hot water. As a teenager in the Dominican Republic, Leo Nunez lied about his age to get a Major League contract. He's come clean now after playing under an assumed name for a decade.
Frances Robles has been covering the story for the Miami Herald. She joins me now.
Good morning, Frances.
FRANCES ROBLES: Good morning, Lynn.
NEARY: So who is the player formerly known as Leo Nunez?
ROBLES: His real name is Juan Carlos Oviedo. And when he was 17, he assumed a friend's identity who was 16 because the teams pay so much more money for 16-year-olds, that people are just going nuts, assuming names and faking their dates of birth.
NEARY: Wait. He was 17, and he wanted to be 16? I mean, 17 is pretty young for a baseball player, still. I don't understand that.
ROBLES: They don't pay big bucks for 17. They pay big bucks for 16. The difference can be hundreds of thousands of dollars. So when you have these kids who are dirt poor, who's, you know, family income is probably, you know, a couple of grand, 100 or 200 or $300,000 difference to fudge a year off your date of birth, hmm, you know, that's pretty tempting.
NEARY: So you're saying that this kind of a lie is fairly widespread in the Dominican Republic, for young baseball players trying to make it into the big leagues?
ROBLES: Absolutely. The issue really exploded after the September 11th attacks, when the United States Embassies started cracking down on visas and just taking a closer look at who all these players were that were coming into the Minor Leagues. And at that time, they found 540 Dominican players who had - well, most of them were Dominican, I should say - who had fudged either their dates of birth or their name and their date of birth.
And what Major League ball is seeing now is that even now, when supposedly the problem has been resolved, a full third of the prospects who are coming in are found to be with fraudulent documents.
NEARY: Well, Oviedo himself came clean on this. I mean, he made this public. Why?
ROBLES: That's the big question. What I do know is that he did call the Dominican Consulate here in Miami and made a shocking revelation. He said, hi. You know, this is Leo Nunez, the Marlins' pitcher. My real name is Juan Carlos Oviedo, and I need to come in to straighten out my paperwork. And when he came in, he was met with the prosecutor's office in the Dominican Republic. And the player gave a sworn statement about how this fraud took place.
NEARY: And didn't his father who died recently also have something to do with his decision?
ROBLES: There's two different prevailing theories as to why he came forward. What he has told some of his teammates is that his father, who died in the spring, that this was the father's dying wish. Now, in Bonao, the town where he's from, what everyone has been saying is that he wanted to get U.S. citizenship. And he wanted U.S. citizenship so that he could bring his family over to the United States.
Presumably, you know, his mother's now a widow. So, presumably, he would want his mother to join him. But that's going to be up to the U.S. government.
NEARY: Yeah. So what is next for Mr. Oviedo now?
ROBLES: That's the big question. The prosecutor's office in the Dominican Republic has said that they're investigating and that they may bring charges. And in all likelihood, he's going to have to sit out a suspension of at least a year. And he was set to make $6 million last year. So I think for a lot of people, that's a really big punishment.
And the other thing that people keep saying, 319 Dominican players signed in 2011 of a total bonus of $42 million. So, Lynn, as long as there's that many players with that much money, this fraud is going to continue.
NEARY: All right. Thanks so much for joining us.
ROBLES: Thank you.
NEARY: Frances Robles is a reporter for the Miami Herald.
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NEARY: This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
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