Some of the details have changed in the case against Rays shortstop Wander Franco, per a report from Martín Adames Alcántara of the Associated Press. He was originally accused of commercial and sexual exploitation and money laundering in the Dominican Republic but will now face the lesser charge of sexual and psychological abuse.
Franco has been accused of having a relationship with a 14-year-old girl and paying the girl’s mother to remain silent about the abuse. Per today’s report, Judge Romaldy Marcelino determined that the money could not be considered payment for the girl’s services because the mother requested it after learning of the relationship, which lasted four months. The judge said that prosecutors initially gave the case more serious treatment because “the accused is a professional MLB player.” Each of the original charges came with potential prison sentences between 10 and 30 years but the new charges could lead to a sentence of two to five years. Per the report, Franco has not yet been formally accused of the new charges.
The money laundering charges against the 35-year-old mother still stand and she remains under house arrest. Her name is being withheld to protect the identity of her daughter. Franco was recently released on bail after paying a bond of 2 million Dominican pesos, equivalent to around $34K USD. He is free to leave the country but has to report to Dominican authorities monthly as the investigation continues.
Though Franco is currently able to leave the Dominican Republic, he may face other difficulties. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic spoke to some American immigration attorneys to highlight some of the complications that could ensue. Primarily, the U.S. government could revoke his visa on the grounds he’s a threat to public safety based on the charges against him. That’s per Amy Maldonado, who serves as outside counsel for major league clubs but not the Rays.
“Barring a full exoneration in this case, where it comes out that this was all made up, I don’t see him very likely coming back anytime soon, if ever,” said Javad Khazaeli, a former prosecutor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who now works in private practice. “The likelihood he would come into the U.S., even if he had a valid visa that wasn’t revoked, is minimal, Khazaeli also said. “If I was his immigration attorney, I would tell him not to even try. Then he would open himself up to being detained at the border (by U.S. Customs and Border Protection) and being put into custody here until an administrative adjudication of these claims.”
The attorneys add that Franco would be barred from the United States if convicted. Rosenthal’s piece was published prior to the AP report of the lesser charges but that conclusion would still apply if the new charge is considered “crime of violence” and punishable by more than a year in prison. In that scenario, it would still be considered an aggravated felony and result in a permanent ban from the United States. Franco has a five-year P-1A Athlete visa but Khazaeli says the burden is on the foreign citizen to prove they warrant admission. The Immigration and Nationality Act includes a provision that allows the government to deny admission to a foreign citizen if it determines there are reasonable grounds.
Rosenthal also looked into the possibility of the Rays voiding the remainder of their contract with Franco, but there’s no precedent for such a result. In November of 2021, Franco and the Rays agreed to an 11-year, $182MM extension that runs through 2032.
Major League Baseball is also conducting its own investigation under the terms of the MLB/MLBPA Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy. In matters relating to that agreement, the league usually waits until legal proceedings play out before revealing its own conclusions. Even if Franco eventually escapes legal consequences, the league still has the authority to impose discipline.
Franco was placed on the restricted list in August of 2023 as the accusations were first coming to light. He was reinstated at the end of the season in a procedural move but will likely be placed back there if the investigations are still ongoing by the terms the 2024 season is ramping up.