Feds expanding probe of longtime GM Bowden for bonus skimming
Jim Bowden declined to be interviewed, but has previously denied any wrongdoing
Bowden has been linked to former White Sox personnel director David Wilder
Wilder and two scouts were fired amidst allegations of skimming signing bonuses
A federal investigation into the skimming of signing bonuses given to baseball prospects from Latin America is looking at Washington Nationals general manager Jim Bowden as far back as 1994, when he was GM of the Cincinnati Reds, according to a baseball executive familiar with the investigation.
Two sources inside baseball say that a long-time scout in Latin America, Jorge Oquendo, 47, is the man who links the FBI's investigations of Bowden and his special assistant Jose Rijo to that of former Chicago White Sox senior director of player personnel David Wilder. Last May the White Sox fired Wilder and two Dominican-based scouts after allegations surfaced that they had pocketed money earmarked for player signing bonuses. Oquendo worked for Wilder in 2006 and 2007, as well as for Bowden with the Reds in 1994 and again with the Reds from 2000 through 2003. Oquendo left Cincinnati in 2005, two years after Bowden was fired. (Bowden became Nationals GM in 2004.)
A spokesman for the FBI division handling the case refused comment when contacted by SI on Friday, and Bowden, who has previously denied any wrongdoing, did not respond to SI's interview request. Rijo's voicemail was full on Sunday and could not accept new messages. Rijo, who took an indefinite leave of absence from the Nationals on Saturday in the wake of an SI.com report that one of the team's top Latin American prospects had falsified his name and age, was quoted in Sunday's Washington Times as saying, "When all of this comes out, people will see I didn't do anything wrong." Wilder declined to comment about the charges in July and did not return calls from SI this past week.
Oquendo told SI last month that he was not involved in any skimming but confirmed that he had been contacted by the FBI. "I was totally shocked," Oquendo said of the allegations involving Wilder. "[But] I don't live with the guy; I don't know what he's doing." Oquendo also distances himself from Bowden, saying, "He didn't even know who I was."
A former Reds executive, who also requested anonymity due to the ongoing investigation, told SI that Bowden rehired Oquendo in 2000, this time as the Reds director of international scouting, based on the recommendation of Cincinnati's senior director of player development and scouting, Leland Maddox, a close associate of Wilder's. A phone message left at Maddox's residence was not returned, and a woman who answered Maddox's home phone on Saturday said he was out of town.
Oquendo's ties to Wilder extend back to 1982, when they played together on the Idaho Falls Rookie League team, the lowest level of the Oakland Athletics farm system. Wilder, an outfielder, was one of the team's best players; Oquendo played first base and hit .348. Despite their promising professional starts, neither possessed major league talent, but neither wanted to give up their baseball dreams. Each decided to pursue front office jobs. Wilder began working in player development for the A's in 1990. He shifted to scouting for the Atlanta Braves one year later and continued climbing the front office ranks with the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. By 2004 he had joined the White Sox, overseeing the club's entire minor league system, including its Latin American operations. His savvy player evaluations, such as picking up closer Bobby Jenks off the waiver wire in 2004, put Wilder on the short list of future general manager candidates. In fact, he was interviewed for GM jobs by the Boston Red Sox in 2005 and by the Reds in 2006.
Before the 2006 season Wilder hired his old teammate Oquendo away from the Reds and assigned him to Latin American scouting duties. Oquendo, an employee of Federal Express in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, was dismissed from his job as a scout by the White Sox more than a year ago. "I'm done with baseball," he told SI. But baseball is not done with him.
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