In June 2019, ten-time All-Star slugger and 2013 World Series MVP David “Big Papi” Ortiz was shot in the back outside a bar in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The incident was first characterized as a “mob hit” on Ortiz. A Dominican source of the New York Post described as “close to the investigation” claimed the shooting was meant to send a “crude message” to Ortiz “for backing out of or refusing a deal” with a crime lord. However, Dominican authorities later changed their tune and claimed the shooters actually intended to kill Ortiz’s cousin, Sixto David Fernandez, who had been sitting with the former Red Sox star. This raised doubts with Dominicans given that Ortiz is a well-known public figure and does not physically resemble Fernandez.
Ortiz spokesman Joe Baerlein spoke to the New York Post for their August 31 story, denying that Ortiz had any “underworld” connections, mentioning that Ortiz’s many valuable legitimate business dealings and endorsements would be endangered by an association with criminals. In the meantime, former MLB players Luis Castillo and Octavio Dotel have been caught up in a criminal investigation into money laundering on behalf of the biggest drug trafficker in the DR, César Emilio “El Abusador” Peralta. According to an attorney interviewed by the Post, wealthy athletes make desirable fronts for real estate and investment deals to clean up dirty money. Con artists also manipulate athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Is Big Papi an innocent victim of mistaken identity or did he get on the wrong side of a crime boss? According to the 2018 book Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime by former Boston police detective, Red Sox security agent and MLB investigator Eddie Dominguez, Ortiz has indeed associated with shady individuals. The suspicious connection known to Dominguez was Felix Leopoldo Marquez Galice a/k/a Edwin Manuel Cotto a/k/a Edwin Cotto Garcia a/k/a Edwin Garcia Cotto, usually referred to by his nickname “Monga.” In fact, Monga and Ortiz were so close that Ortiz would even refer to Monga as his “half brother.”
In 2005, while working as Resident Security Agent (RSA) for the Red Sox, Dominguez began to learn of allegations that Monga was betting on baseball games. An encounter with Monga triggered Dominguez’s cop intuition that Ortiz’s friend was up to no good, so he began investigating. With the assistance of an informant, Dominguez learned Monga had been placing thousands of dollars’ worth of bets on baseball games with underground gaming parlors around Boston, including bets on Red Sox games. Monga’s involvement in the illegal gambling scene at Dominican barbershops and bodegas was a concern to Dominguez because the parlors were known hangout spots for drug dealers.
The issue of players inviting unvetted members of their entourage into the clubhouse was an ongoing issue Dominguez had been discussing with MLB in an effort to keep drug dealers and bookies out of team facilities. Dominguez forwarded information to the league about shady characters such as Monga entering the clubhouse, but did not receive a response for months. Finally, the league office informed Dominguez that it would inform the Red Sox that Monga would be barred from the clubhouse unless he obtained proper credentials. In effect, Monga was only kept out of the clubhouse when Dominguez was on duty. Monga was even on the field for the 2006 Home Run Derby because Ortiz threatened to not participate unless his friend was allowed to join him.
Dominguez dutifully passed on information about Monga and his gambling activities to MLB in the expectation that MLB would follow up with its own investigation. However, this never occurred, even though it is highly suspicious that an individual with a close connection to an active MLB player was betting on his friend’s games.
Later in 2006, Dominguez was contacted by Kevin Hallinan, head of MLB security, and asked to accompany Hallinan to a meeting with former Boston manager Terry “Tito” Francona and Ortiz about Monga’s gambling. Only the information uncovered by Dominguez was discussed, and it became clear to him that MLB had not followed up on his reports. Not surprisingly, Ortiz denied everything. Right after the meeting, Dominguez received a call from his informant that the gaming parlor frequented by Monga located in a Dominican barbershop had been shut down immediately.
Prior to the meeting in Francona’s office, Dominguez had begun a police investigation into Dominican bodegas and barbershops that hosted illegal gaming parlors in conjunction with the FBI and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which resulted in arrests of store owners and seizures of money and documents in “Operation Barbershop.” However, Monga’s favorite barbershop was not targeted thanks to the timely warning given to Ortiz.
Monga was eventually arrested by ICE in 2007 on charges of making false claims of US citizenship resulting from use of a false identity (Edwin Manuel Cotto/Edwin Cotto Garcia/Edwin Garcia Cotto). The information leading to the arrest had been provided by Dominguez through his investigation of Monga’s background. Monga was deported to the Dominican Republic and, according to Dominguez, continued working for Ortiz in their homeland.
Dominguez did not obtain proof that Monga had been involved in placing bets on behalf of Ortiz at the illegal sports books. It seems Ortiz’s status as a major star may have protected him and Monga from being thoroughly investigated by MLB, a departure from its past anti-gambling stance. I wonder if Pete Rose has ever heard about Monga and “Operation Barbershop” and what he might think about Dominguez’s book.
Ortiz’s connection to the underground gambling scene through Monga and apparent continued relationship after Monga’s arrest and deportation belies his claim that he avoids so-called “underworld” figures. Ortiz is a beloved World Series hero and the high earnings from his playing career and endorsements would make him an attractive target for a mob boss like Peralta to cultivate.
It appears that Ortiz’s wealth and status have allowed him to escape scrutiny, as Dominican authorities have claimed Ortiz was not the intended target of the hit. The story of his friendship with Monga the gambler should invite skepticism of the official version of events and Ortiz’s claim of lack of involvement with the criminal element.
Reference: Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime by Eddie Dominguez, Hachette Books, 2018. Chapter 5: “Operation Barbershop” (pgs. 78-83).
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