Thursday, January 14, 2010
Dominican court finds for former scout
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
ESPN The Magazine
A former New York Yankees Latin American scouting director who was fired amid allegations that he had skimmed bonuses from several prospects was awarded nearly $700,000 in damages against the team by a Dominican court, according to court documents obtained by ESPN The Magazine.
Carlos Rios, an employee with the Yankees for almost nine years, had been accused of pocketing approximately $135,000 of signing bonus money from prospects Kelvin De Leon and Elio de la Rosa, who both signed with the Yankees in 2007.
As a result of Major League Baseball's investigation into the allegations -- led by investigator Victor Burgos -- the Yankees fired Rios and Dominican scouting supervisor Ramon Valdivia in August 2008. The Yankees settled a wrongful termination lawsuit with Valdivia last year. But in Rios's case the Dominican court ruled on Dec. 30 that the Yankees were obligated to pay the remainder of his contract that runs through 2012.
"I understand [the Yankees] were pressured into this decision by major league baseball," Rios, in his first public comments since his firing, said in a phone interview from Venezuela. "They handled it how they thought was correct. But the Dominican court didn't agree.
"I'm no criminal."
The team first became aware of the allegations against Rios and Valdivia, according to the court documents, from an anonymous letter. After the investigation, both men were fired and suspended indefinitely by MLB.
Requests for comment to several Yankees front office people were not returned and a team spokesman declined comment. Rios said he believes the Yankees will appeal the ruling.
Among those who testified in Rios' lawsuit were Burgos, Kelvin's father, Kelvin Paulino de Leon, and Elio's father, Rosario de La Rosa Vallejo.
In his ruling, Judge Alexis A. Gomez Geraldino wrote, "This tribunal has been able to establish with the testimony of Victor Burgos, Kelvin Paulino de Leon, and Rosario de la Rosa Vallejo, that none of them saw Carlos R. Rios receive money, that everything was based on rumors, and that none of the witnesses were able to prove the accusations with certainty."
Rios' lawsuit win coupled with Valdivia's settlement with the Yankees and Jose Baez's wrongful termination lawsuit win last year against the Washington Nationals regarding the Esmailyn Gonzalez situation, demonstrates the difficulty teams are having in firing employees in the Dominican suspected of wrongdoing, regardless of any determination made by MLB's investigative unit.
MLB has been working for the past several months to develop a better relationship with the Dominican government in order to prosecute those proven of wrongdoing, according to several MLB sources.
Rios contends MLB never had enough evidence against him in the first place.
"They had every opportunity opportunity to present every bit of evidence against me," Rios said. "I find it curious that neither of the parents of the two players said in court that they had direct knowledge that I had been given any money."
Dan Mullin, MLB's senior director of investigations, declined comment and referred all questions to the Yankees. Yankees spokesman Jason Zillo said the team declined comment.
Rios says he hopes to return to work for a major league team at some point, though he's unsure whether MLB will lift his suspension. He says he has not spoken to any Yankee front office members since he was initially suspended by the team after it had received the anonymous letter.
"There's no bitterness," Rios said. "I know it's been a difficult case and it hasn't been easy for me. Hopefully I'll get to close this chapter and the Yankees can continue to sign players in Latin American and continue to be a quality organization and I can continue my career in baseball."
Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.