MIAMI -- A major league pitcher who defected from Cuba has been sued for $18 million by a Cuban-American man who blames the player for his imprisonment on the communist island.
The lawsuit was filed last week in Miami federal court against Aroldis Chapman, a left-handed pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. The lawsuit claims that Chapman falsely accused Danilo Curbelo Garcia of involvement in human trafficking, leading to his 2008 arrest and conviction in Cuba. Curbelo Garcia is serving a 10-year sentence.
Chapman defected in 2009 in the Netherlands and was signed a year later by the Reds to a six-year, $30.25 million contract. The lawsuit claims Chapman accused Curbelo Garcia to win favor with the Cuban government so he could rejoin its national baseball team and eventually travel overseas to stage his escape. Chapman had been suspended from the team for a previous attempt to flee Cuba.
"His decision to leave the country led to his methodical subterfuge, which centered on demonstrating his loyalty to the state, which he accomplished by becoming an informant ... and falsely reporting and testifying against Curbelo Garcia," the lawsuit says.
Chapman's agent didn't immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment. The lawsuit was filed in South Florida because Chapman owns a home in the area and Curbelo Garcia's wife and daughter both live here. Curbelo Garcia himself is a permanent legal U.S. resident in Miami who also holds Cuban citizenship.
The lawsuit surfaced just before Chapman, 24, was arrested for speeding and driving with a suspended license early Monday in Ohio. Police said he was driving 93 mph on an interstate and was carrying a suspended Kentucky driver's license. And this was just after the hard-throwing Chapman had closed out a 5-2 victory over the Yankees, earning his first save of the season.
According to the lawsuit, Chapman and his father testified at a trial that Curbelo Garcia had described during a meeting an elaborate plan for the player to defect that included a stay at a safe house and a rendezvous with a boat on a beach near Havana. Chapman claimed that Curbelo Garcia wanted to be paid a certain percentage once Chapman signed a baseball contract, the lawsuit says.
Curbelo Garcia, however, insisted that he never proposed such a plan and only met Chapman briefly in July 2008 while visiting family in Cuba. A witness to that meeting quoted in the lawsuit contends that Curbelo Garcia only said something to the effect that "in the United States major league players, who were not as good as Chapman, were making millions of dollars."
After that meeting, the lawsuit says that the car in which Curbela Garcia was riding was stopped and searched by Cuban police. The next day, he was arrested and has been in prison ever since. Like many other Cuban prisoners, Curbela Garcia claims he has suffered beatings, long stretches of solitary confinement, health problems and been given inadequate food and medical care.
Chapman, on the other hand, is a rising star on the Reds, with manager Dusty Baker saying recently that he was in line to become the team's closer. In 87 big-league games, Chapman is 9-3 with a 2.42 ERA and 129 strikeouts in just over 85 innings pitched.