SAN DIEGO -- Former Major League Baseball pitcher Esteban Antonio Loaiza pleaded guilty Friday to felony cocaine possession with intent to distribute.
In a plea deal, lawyers agreed to recommend a sentence of about 30 years, though the maximum penalty for Loaiza's charges is life imprisonment.
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 into federal custody.
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.