Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Wander Franco allegations draw mixed reactions in Tampa, Dominican Republic

Dominican attorney Juan Arturo Recio said the investigation into Tampa Bay Rays All-Star shortstop Wander Franco regarding an alleged relationship with a minor is in a preliminary stage and could take months.

Recio, who also works as a general editor for ESPN Deportes in the Dominican Republic, said Wednesday that if Franco does not have a lawyer who could speak on his behalf, getting one would be “a good idea.”

“It’s important to understand that in our legislation, there are no consensual relationships between a minor and an adult,” said Recio. “There are no mitigating factors.”

Dominican authorities who are following the case said they are unable to share details while they’re investigating, gathering information and verifying other details.

“For now, we ask for your understanding, because any information that is disclosed could hinder the process,” said the Attorney General’s Office.

Relationships between adults and minors under 18 years of age are prohibited in the Dominican Republic under Law 136-03, which outlines the Code for the Protection and Fundamental Rights of Children and Adolescents. This code stipulates prison sentences ranging from two to five years, as well as fines. Dominican authorities categorize such relations as sexual abuse. This applies even if the minor gives consent.

On Monday, a group from Major League Baseball traveled to Peravia province, along the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, as part of the league’s investigation, according to El Nuevo Diario. The office of the National Agency for Boys, Girls, Adolescents and Family and Gender Violence Unit, which is handling the Franco probe and is chaired by Dominican judge Olga Diná Llaverías, a specialist on child abuse cases, is also located in Peravia.

According to Recio, this is the first publicly known instance of issues related to minors involving a Dominican baseball player in a country where baseball is the most popular sport. Baseball, known as “pelota” in the Caribbean nation, often represents a chance to overcome poverty and aspire to a brighter future.

Some Dominicans believe the allegations against Franco are a case of extortion against a wealthy player; others think he is guilty.

“But one thing is for sure: Baseball is both a conservative and family-oriented sport,” said ESPN Deportes reporter Enrique Rojas, who is Dominican and lives in Central Florida.

“While some individuals might remain unaffected by a tarnished reputation, that’s not the case in baseball. It’s rare to hear about a baseball player being involved in such a relationship,” said Rojas. “And even in a country as liberal as this, there’s a strict stance against offenses related to sexual activities with minors.”

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Since the Rays started playing as a Major League Baseball franchise in 1998, they have rapidly and consistently diversified their roster with Latino players. This tradition has gone hand in hand with the signing of million-dollar contracts, such as Franco’s, the biggest contract in Rays history: $182 million over 11 years and up to $223 million over 12. For that reason, Dominican fans in Tampa Bay felt the news like a slap in the face.

“The allegations are so serious that they can impact the future of one of our best players,” said Miguel Mieses, 38, a Dominican father from Riverview and a dedicated fan of the Rays. “I would no longer like to support him as a player, because he is involved in something so delicate.”

Another Dominican, Francisco Martinez, 54, from Tampa, believes Franco is not innocent but said some girls might do a lot for fame and money.

Wendy Dominguez, 51, from Seffner, called it unfortunate to see Franco in such controversy.

“He should know that crossing that line is not appropriate.”

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