August 7, 2018 / 7:23 PM / 10 days ago

Former MLB pitcher expected to plead guilty to cocaine charge

(Reuters) - Esteban Loaiza, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who played for the Chicago White Sox and seven other teams, may plead guilty on Friday to cocaine trafficking charges at a U.S. District Court hearing in California, according to a court filing.

FILE PHOTO: Los Angeles Dodgers' Esteban Loaiza throws to the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning of their National League MLB baseball game in Chicago September 3, 2007. REUTERS/John Gress/File Photo

Loaiza, 46, earlier this year pleaded not guilty to charges of possession with intent to sell cocaine, stemming from a February arrest in San Diego. Authorities found about 20 kilos (44 pounds) of cocaine in bags with his name on them, federal court records show.

Loaiza’s lawyer had requested that a trial scheduled to start on Friday be changed to a plea hearing for her client, the court records said.

Defense attorney Janice Deaton offered no comment on Tuesday when reached by Reuters. A spokeswoman for San Diego federal prosecutors declined to discuss the potential plea deal, but said in an email that the statutory penalties for the current charge are mandatory minimum 10 years and maximum of life imprisonment.

Loaiza, a journeyman who pitched for eight major league teams and most of them more than once between 1995 and 2008, was a two-time American League all star.

His most productive season was 2003 with the White Sox, when he posted a 21-9 won/loss record and finished second in voting for the American League Cy Young Award, given annually to league’s best pitcher.

Loaiza’s 126 career wins is second behind only Fernando Valenzuela for most victories by an MLB pitcher born in Mexico, according to Baseball Reference.

Loaiza was born in Tijuana, which is just few miles south of where he was arrested on the cocaine charge.

Law officers in February stopped a Mercedes-Benz SUV driven by Loaiza in San Diego County, and a drug-sniffing dog indicated narcotics or drug residue was in the rear of the vehicle, court records show. Officers found a compartment “commonly used to smuggle drugs and drug proceeds.”

The officers also found a garage door opener in Loaiza’s pocket and used it to gain access to a townhouse in the San Diego suburb of Imperial Beach, where they saw no furniture or personal belongings. It was in a van in the townhouse’s garage that they found bags filled with packages of cocaine, court records show.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., editing by Bill Berkrot

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