Wander Franco was released from jail this week on a bond valued at $34,000 USD, and has been ordered to make monthly appearances before the court for the next six months as prosecutors continue their investigation into an alleged inappropriate relationship with a 14-year-old.
According to the Associated Press, Franco’s release came with a narrowing of the allegations against him. Although he is accused of paying thousands of dollars and a vehicle to the minor’s mother to obtain consent for his alleged relationship, charges of commercial and sexual exploitation and money laundering were dropped by the court on Tuesday following the judge’s review of the evidence.
Per the AP, the evidence supporting the allegations noted that the timing of the payments, made over the course of a four month period, occurred after the relationship had begun, and not prior to, which eliminated the concerns of sexual exploitation and money laundering against Franco:
The judge also determined that the money Franco is accused of giving the teen’s mother cannot be considered payment for the girl’s alleged services since the mother requested money after finding out about their relationship, which lasted four months, according to evidence collected by prosecutors.
The girl’s 35-year-old mother also is charged in the case and remains under house arrest. The original charges of money laundering still stand against her.
Per the AP, “Franco has not been formally accused, but if found guilty [...] could face between two to five years in prison.”
Does this mean Franco could, in theory, return to the Rays? Apparently US immigration law would make that difficult, per an interview with Javad Khazaeli, an immigration law expert, who doubted Franco would be allowed back into the US until the case is resolved.
First, the Tampa Bay Times provided context on Franco’s potential return this season:
Though he has not yet been formally charged with a crime, Franco faces huge hurdles to return to the United States, according to a former prosecutor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement who now works in private practice.
“It will be very difficult for him to come back, barring a determination that all these allegations have been made up,” Javad Khazaeli told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. “I can’t see his visa being approved any time soon with a credible allegation and a law enforcement prosecution going on. The U.S. government will defer to that.”
Second, the Athletic interviewed Khaezali as well as Amy Maldonado — “who said she is outside counsel for four major-league teams (but not the Rays)” — to answer the question of Franco’s long term prospects of returning to the Tampa Bay Rays. She noted:
A conviction in the Dominican Republic would be an aggravated felony under U.S. immigration law and result in a permanent ban from the U.S....
So what does this all mean for the Tampa Bay Rays? In it’s simplest form, it all comes down to whether or not Franco is issued a work visa by the United States. But for now, it’s wait and see.
At a minimum, if Franco has not reported by Opening Day, he can be placed on the restricted list, which would prevent Franco from collecting on his $2 million salary for 2024.