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Rays’ Wander Franco Appears in Court, Faces Allegations of Relationship With Minor

PUERTO PLATA, Dominican Republic (AP) — Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco appeared in a Dominican court Friday to face allegations that he had a brief relationship with a 14-year-old girl and gave her mother a small car and thousands of dollars in exchange for her consent, according to court documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The 22-year-old All-Star is accused of commercial sexual exploitation and money laundering. A judge who is scheduled to issue a ruling in the case on Friday has several options: release Franco on bond, temporarily arrest him, prevent him from leaving the Dominican Republic or demand that he make occasional appearances until the investigation or a trial has ended.

The girl’s 35-year-old mother faces the same charges as Franco. The AP is not naming the woman in order to preserve her daughter’s privacy.

Franco, who was detained Monday in the northern province of Puerto Plata, hasn’t been charged with any crimes. The judge has received a nearly 600-page document detailing the evidence that prosecutors gathered during a monthslong investigation.

The athlete’s lawyers have not commented other than saying that Franco was “doing fine.”

Prosecutors said the investigation began after they received an anonymous tip in July 2023 stemming from someone who saw a media post alluding to the relationship. The AP has not been able to verify the reported post.

Authorities accuse Franco of taking the minor away from her home in Puerto Plata in December 2022 and having a four-month relationship with her with consent from the girl’s mother.

They accuse Franco of sending the mother monthly payments of $1,700 for seven months and buying her a car “in order to allow the relationship and let her go out with him wherever she wanted,” according to the document, which quoted the girl.

The girl also was quoted as saying that she had demanded for a local digital media site to publish an item about her alleged relationship with the baseball player because she was “tired” of her mother, whom she accused of taking Franco’s money and not sharing any of it with her.

Days later, Franco published a live video alleging it was a scheme to extort money from him, the document stated.

In September 2023, authorities raided the home of the girl’s mother and seized 800,000 Dominican pesos ($13,700) as well as $68,500 they said was found hidden behind a frame. Another seizure at a different home found a guarantee certificate from a local bank for 2.1 million Dominican pesos ($36,000) that they said was delivered by Franco for the “commercial and sexual exploitation” of the girl.

In addition, they seized a Suzuki Swift worth $26,600, according to the document. Authorities noted that days before the car was bought, the teenager’s mother had the equivalent of $821 in her bank account. The mother also bought property in Puerto Plata worth $36,000, they said.

Authorities also state that Franco’s mother had sent money to the girl’s mother, but she has not been charged in the case even though they said she got involved “to avoid traces of her son with the accused.”

Franco arrived at a court in Puerto Plata on Friday morning and remained silent while being escorted through a group of journalists that peppered with him questions. The girl’s mother, who works at a local bank and was wearing sunglasses, also declined comment as she was escorted to a courtroom.

Outside, a small group of young Dominican players donned in baseball attire gathered to support Franco, carrying posters that read, “Free Franco,” and “We all are Franco.”

Franco was having an All-Star season before being sidelined in August, when authorities in the Dominican Republic began investigating claims he had been in a relationship with a minor. Major League Baseball launched its own investigation, placing Franco on the restricted list on Aug. 14 before moving him to administrative leave on Aug. 22. Both investigations are ongoing.

Franco signed a $182 million, 11-year contract in 2021. His salary last year and this year is $2 million per season.

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