Former White Sox executive admits to taking kickbacks from prospects
By NATASHA KORECKI Federal Courts Reporternkorecki@suntimes.com
While searching for new recruits for the White Sox in Mexico and the Dominican Republic, two scouts and a onetime executive had something else on their minds — taking their own cut, according to a cooperation deal made public Friday.
Former White Sox executive David Wilder pleaded guilty Friday to mail fraud, admitting he took kickbacks from signing bonuses and contract buyouts given to secure Latin American prospects between December 2004 and February 2008.
It was clear from his 26-page plea deal that Wilder implicated his codefendants as he gave investigators a roadmap of a scheme to skim from the signing bonuses of new talent plucked from Latin America.
His plea deal indicates that two former White Sox scouts also charged in the case -- Jorge Oquendo Rivera and Victor Mateo – “scouted for and identified prospective Sox players in Latin America from whom the defendants could obtain a portion of the players’ signing bonuses.” The deal alleges that Mateo and Oquendo negotiated both the signing bonuses – and the kickback schemes – with prospective players, Mexican baseball teams and representatives of both.
While the White Sox’s general manager gave Wilder the OK to attach big-dollar bonuses to the recruits, Wilder said he did not reveal to the GM that a kickback scheme was in play.
The broad-shouldered, athletically-built Wilder, once a minor leaguer himself, answered a series of questions posed by U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle, noting he indeed agree with the document that spelled out a four-year scheme that extracted hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks tied to bonuses of young baseball prospects.
“I understand what I’ve done,” Wilder, the team’s former senior director of player personnel, said in court in Chicago.
Wilder, Oquendo and Mateo were indicted last year on federal fraud charges that prosecutors said involved kickbacks totaling about $400,000. However, Wilder, 50, pleaded guilty to just one count of mail fraud and his plea agreement calls for his continued cooperation in the investigation.
Wilder’s attorney, Thomas Bienert Jr., said his client has been cooperating with authorities for at least two years.
“Mr. Wilder accepts responsibility for his actions. He deeply regrets what he did. He apologizes to the White Sox and any others he harmed,” Bienert said after court.
Oquendo has pleaded not guilty. Mateo remains at large.
In the plea deal, Wilder admits skimming kickbacks from 23 prospective baseball players and throughout points the finger at Oquendo and Mateo as allegedly playing key roles within the scheme.