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MLB Superstar Formally Charged With Sex Crimes Against a Minor

Photo: Kevin Sabitus

Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco has been formally charged with sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of an underage girl in the Dominican Republic, the Puerto Plata District Office Prosecutor Kelmin Duncan and the spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office Nairobi Viloria confirmed to ESPN's Juan Recio Tuesday (July 9) night.

Franco, 23, was placed on administrative leave for a second time in March ahead of the beginning of the 2024 MLB season, which has since been extended, amid multiple accusations of inappropriate relationships with underage girls dating back to last season. The former No. 1 overall international prospect has been under investigation since July 10, 2023 after a 14-year-old girl from his native Dominican Republic filed a complaint about alleged sexual relations.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic reportedly raided two homes linked to Franco on December 26, the New York Post reported at the time. The Santo Domingo Prosecutor's Office for Children and Adolescents searched Franco's home in Villa Real, as well as one belonging to Franco's mother in Baní, according to the Dominican newspaper Listin Diario.

Authorities initially confirmed that they were investigating the accusations made against Franco in late August. A complaint against Franco was filed by a 17-year-old girl in his native Dominican Republic in July, the Dominican newspaper Diario Libre reported on August 14.

The report came after a Facebook post re-shared on X claimed Franco "was dating a 14 year old and she is exposing him after he didn't send her the hush money." Diario Libre specified that the underage girl who filed the complaint was not the girl mentioned in the social media posts.

The Rays initially placed Franco "on administrative leave until further notice" amid the allegations on August 22. The two sides had previously agreed to his placement on the restricted list on August 14. Franco appeared to deny the allegations in a video shared on Instagram Live shortly after the allegations were reported.

“They say that I’m in public with a little girl, that I’m running around with a minor,” Franco said in Spanish. “People don’t know what to do with their time. They don’t know what they’re talking about."

Rays manager Kevin Cash initially claimed that Franco's absence from the lineup was due to a scheduled day off and denied being aware of the speculation. On August 17, a source close to Major League Baseball's investigation into Franco told MLB insider Héctor Gómez that Franco's career was likely over.

"A person very close to the investigations into the case of Wander Franco: 'It will be very unlikely that Wander Franco will play in MLB again, judging by the results of the investigations that are currently being carried out, which directly commit him to the accusations against him,'" Gómez wrote.

Franco's wife, Rachelly Paulino, his childhood sweetheart from the Dominican Republic, was identified publicly amid the allegations, according to the Daily Mail. The couple has reportedly been married since 2021 and shares two sons.

Franco signed an 11-year extension with the Rays in November 2011 after a breakout rookie season and was selected to the All-Star Game for the first time in 2023, hitting for a .281 average with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs in 442 at-bats. The Dominican native was ranked as one of the top prospects for the 2017 international class when he initially signed with the franchise that same year.

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