July 19, 2024

D.R. judge orders Rays SS Wander Franco release as investigation continues

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A judge on Friday ordered the conditional release of Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco while he is investigated for allegations he had a relationship with a 14-year-old girl and gave her mother a car and thousands of dollars in exchange for her consent, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The judge said Franco is allowed to leave the Dominican Republic but must return once a month to meet with authorities. He also was ordered to pay 2 million Dominican pesos ($34,000) as a type of deposit as the investigation continues.

Franco, who was expected to be released early Saturday, did not speak to reporters after the hearing ended. During a bathroom break earlier in the day, he briefly told reporters that “everything is in God’s hands.”

Supporters who gathered outside the courthouse clapped after the ruling and shouted “Boss! Boss!” in reference to Franco. Franco’s father, also named Wander Franco, exclaimed, “God is just.”

The 22-year-old All-Star is accused of commercial sexual exploitation and money laundering. The judge in the case, Rumaldi Marcelino, had several options for a ruling Friday: release Franco on bond, temporarily arrest him, prevent him from leaving the Dominican Republic or demand that he make occasional appearances until the investigation or a trial has ended.

The girl’s 35-year-old mother, who faces the same accusations as Franco, was ordered held under house arrest as the investigation continues. She smiled slightly as she left the courtroom but did not comment. The AP is not naming the woman in order to preserve her daughter’s privacy.

Franco, who was detained Monday in the northern province of Puerto Plata, hasn’t been charged with any crimes. The judge has received a nearly 600-page document detailing the evidence that prosecutors gathered during a monthslong investigation.

The athlete’s lawyers have not commented other than saying Franco was “doing fine.”

Prosecutors said the investigation began after they received an anonymous tip in July 2023 stemming from someone who saw a media post alluding to the relationship. The AP has not been able to verify the reported post.

Authorities accuse Franco of taking the minor away from her home in Puerto Plata in December 2022 and having a four-month relationship with her with consent from the girl’s mother.

They accuse Franco of sending the mother monthly payments of $1,700 for seven months and buying her a car “in order to allow the relationship and let her go out with him wherever she wanted,” according to the document, which quoted the girl.

The girl also was quoted as saying she had demanded that a local digital media site publish an item about her alleged relationship with the baseball player because she was “tired” of her mother, whom she accused of taking Franco’s money and not sharing any of it with her.

Days later, Franco published a live video alleging it was a scheme to extort money from him, the document stated.

In September 2023, authorities raided the home of the girl’s mother and seized 800,000 Dominican pesos ($13,700) as well as $68,500 they said was found hidden behind a frame. Another seizure at a different home found a guarantee certificate from a local bank for 2.1 million Dominican pesos ($36,000) that they said was delivered by Franco for the “commercial and sexual exploitation” of the girl.

In addition, they seized a Suzuki Swift worth $26,600, according to the document. Authorities noted that days before the car was bought, the teenager’s mother had the equivalent of $821 in her bank account. The mother also bought property in Puerto Plata worth $36,000, they said.

Authorities also state that Franco’s mother had sent money to the girl’s mother, but she has not been charged in the case even though they said she got involved “to avoid traces of her son with the accused.”

Franco arrived at a court in Puerto Plata on Friday morning and remained silent while being escorted through a group of journalists that peppered with him questions. The girl’s mother, who works at a local bank and was wearing sunglasses, also declined comment as she was escorted to a courtroom.

Outside, a small group of young Dominican players donned in baseball attire gathered to support Franco, carrying posters that read “Free Franco” and “We all are Franco.”

Franco was having an All-Star season before being sidelined in August, when authorities in the Dominican Republic began investigating claims he had been in a relationship with a minor. Major League Baseball launched its own investigation, placing Franco on the restricted list Aug. 14 before moving him to administrative leave Aug. 22. Both investigations are ongoing.

Franco signed a $182 million, 11-year contract in 2021. His salary last year and this year is $2 million per season.



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