Former Major League Baseball pitcher and accused cocaine trafficker Esteban Antonio Loaiza was in federal custody Thursday, a day after he appeared for the first time in U.S. District Court to face a drug charge related to alleged trafficking activities, authorities said.
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Loaiza, 46, was originally charged with state crimes following his arrest last month in Imperial Beach, but he now faces a federal charge of possession of cocaine with intent to deliver. If convicted, the former two-time All-Star faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison and up to a $10 million fine.
Prosecutors on Wednesday unveiled a new criminal complaint against the Tijuana native and Mar Vista High School graduate that revealed several new details about his Feb. 9 arrest.
Sheriff’s officials and prosecutors say Loaiza was under surveillance when he arrived at a townhouse on Fern Avenue in Imperial Beach driving a Mercedes SUV. He allegedly drove into the two-vehicle garage, closed the garage door and then emerged about 10 minutes later.
A deputy from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s Border Crimes Suppression Team followed the Mercedes SUV until it stopped in a public parking lot, where the deputy deployed a drug-sniffing dog. When the dog indicated the presence of drugs — or that drugs had been in the vehicle — the deputy searched the Mercedes.
According to the complaint, no drugs were found in the SUV, but the deputy discovered “an after-market compartment in the rear … of the type commonly used to smuggle drugs and drug proceeds.” In Loaiza’s shirt pocket, deputies also allegedly found a garage-door remote for the Fern Avenue townhouse.
Based off that evidence — and possibly other evidence that sparked the surveillance, but remains undisclosed — deputies obtained a search warrant for the Fern Avenue townhouse, where they found a Nissan minivan in the garage containing baseball bags labeled with Loaiza’s last name.
“Underneath the baseball bags and the rear floor panels of the Nissan, officers found 20 packages, consistent with the usual appearance of packaged narcotics,” according to the criminal complaint. The packages together weighed roughly 44 pounds, and three random packages checked by deputies all contained a white powder substance believed to be cocaine.
Loaiza was arrested and booked into county jail, where he remained until his transfer Wednesday morning into federal custody. He’s due back in court Monday for a detention hearing in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Nita Stormes. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for March 20.
According to Baseball Reference, Loaiza made more than $43 million over a career that spanned parts of 13 seasons. He played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago White Sox, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, Washington Nationals and Oakland A’s.
—City News Service
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