ATLANTA -- A federal appeals court on Monday handed a partial victory to a professional sports agent who was sentenced to prison for smuggling five Cuban baseball players into Florida.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Gustavo "Gus" Dominguez's conviction on charges of transporting and harboring aliens. But the three-judge panel's decision let stand his convictions on smuggling charges.
Dominguez was sentenced to five years in prison after he was convicted in April 2007 of paying for the players to be smuggled by boat from Cuba in 2004. He was released early from his term in January and his attorney Ben Kuehne said Monday he was thrilled with the court's decision even though Dominguez is already free.
"Justice delayed is better than no justice at all," said Kuehne.
Dominguez was known throughout the industry for negotiating the contract for Rene Arocha, the first Cuban player to defect to the United States. He used that as a platform to build a successful business in Los Angeles that represented more than 100 athletes, including several Cuban baseball defectors.
But he became almost as well-known for the conviction, which cast a pall over agents who handled Cuban players, as none wanted to be the target of a federal investigation.
At the trial, defense attorneys tried to paint Dominguez as a man dedicated to helping oppressed Cuban players. They said he let the players stay in his California house, taught them how to use a bank account and showcased them before Major League scouts.
But prosecutors countered that he violated federal immigration law and endangered the lives of the athletes in pursuit of a profit when he helped organize two trips to smuggle the athletes from Cuba to Miami in 2004. They also said he broke federal law when he harbored them in Los Angeles while they waited to apply for asylum.
The 11th Circuit's decision concluded there wasn't enough evidence to support his conviction on charges of transporting and harboring aliens, partly because there was no indication the players actively tried to avoid immigration officials once they reached California.
But the panel's decision refused to overturn Dominguez's other convictions, concluding there was ample evidence that Dominguez "knew or recklessly disregarded" the fact that the Cubans didn't have permission to enter the U.S.
Kuehne said he is considering whether to ask the full 11th Circuit to consider the case after he reviewed a 67-page dissent written by U.S. Circuit Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat, who argued that all of Dominguez's convictions should be invalidated.
"At a time when immigration hysteria rules the country, a thoughtful approach to our immigration laws warrants the consideration that the entire court should provide," Kuehne said.