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 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 stemming from someone who saw a social 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.
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. They also 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.
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 was wearing sunglasses, also declined comment as she was escorted to a courtroom.
Outside, a small group of Dominican children donned in baseball attire gathered to support Franco, carrying posters that read, “Free Franco,” and “We all are Franco.”
Major League Baseball placed Franco on administrative leave in August under its the joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy with the players’ association. He was paid and received service time while on leave.
There is no timetable for a conclusion of the MLB’s investigation and whether the results might lead to disciplinary measures from the commissioner’s office.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico