CHICAGO -- A former Chicago White Sox scouting executive was indicted on federal fraud charges Wednesday for allegedly accepting kickbacks from signing bonuses and contract buyouts, targeting players from impoverished parts of Latin America hungry to play in the U.S.
David Wilder and two former scouts for the team in Latin America are accused of accepting about $400,000 to secure 23 prospects between 2004 and 2008, according to the indictment released by the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago.
"These defendants allegedly defrauded their employer and enriched themselves by taking advantage of vulnerable ballplayers, who were anxious to pursue their dreams of stardom in the major leagues," said Robert Grant, of the FBI's Chicago office.
At the time, the White Sox were recruiting in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela and other Latin American nations, the indictment says.
The kickbacks were concealed from the team and its more senior officials, according to the indictment, which doesn't identify specific players.
"The Chicago White Sox commend the diligence and hard work shown by federal authorities and Major League Baseball in reaching today's indictments," the team said in a release. "Since the White Sox first reported our internal findings to Major League Baseball, MLB and its clubs have taken important and positive steps to establish processes in Latin America that are designed to better protect Latin players, as well as Major League Baseball's teams, from being victimized by illegal activities related to scouting and signing players."
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined comment.
Wilder, 50, of San Francisco, is charged with seven counts of mail fraud. If convicted, he could face 20 years in prison for each count.
The seven mail fraud counts allege that checks ranging from $30,000 to $525,000 were sent from the White Sox to players or teams for the contract rights to players.
Former scouts Jorge L. Oquendo Rivera and Victor Mateo also face mail fraud charges.
Wilder and the scouts are accused of secretly inflating signing bonuses of prospects, then kicking back the money they added on to themselves.
Wilder and Oquendo, 49, of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, were expected to appear voluntarily at an arraignment at a later date. A warrant has been issued for the arrest of the 39-year-old Mateo, of Arroyo Hondo in the Dominican Republic.
An investigation into the matter began after the White Sox reported internal findings to Major League Baseball, and baseball officials then contacted authorities, the indictment says.
The White Sox in 2008 fired Wilder as director of player personnel and Mateo as a scout. The team offered few details at the time, saying only that the dismissals were "for actions in Latin America that were violations of club policy and standards."
Wilder began his player-development career with the Oakland Athletics in 1990 after a seven-year minor league career as an outfielder in the Oakland and Chicago Cubs systems.
He was assistant director of scouting and player development for the Atlanta Braves from 1991-95; farm director and assistant general manager with the Cubs from 1996-99; and vice president of player personnel and special assignment scout with the Milwaukee Brewers from 2000-03, before joining the White Sox late in 2003.
He oversaw Chicago's entire minor league department and player development staff as well as the club's Latin American operations.
Wilder was also a member of the United States Olympic Baseball team's selection committee in 2000, helping assemble the team that won the gold medal.