TCN Blog 2016 Top Story #9: Correa Convicted, No Cardinals Closure

The squeaky-clean reputation of the St. Louis Cardinals has been badly sullied by the prison sentence handed down to former team executive Chris Correa. In Federal Court in Houston in January, the team’s ex-scouting director pleaded guilty to five of 12 counts of unauthorized access to computer information in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

correa-h-200After several delays, in July, the 35-year-old was sentenced to 46 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release and was assessed a fine of $279,038.65. Damages caused were estimated to total $1.7 million through Correa’s access of Houston Astros player assessment and internal email systems, which included statistics, projections, analyses and involved draft and trade evaluations.

Correa could have been given a maximum of five years in prison on each count, but prosecutors had agreed that the sentences would be served concurrently in return for his guilty plea. The New Hampshire native began serving his time in late August.

Correa illegally breached Astros internal systems over a 16-month period, starting in March 2013 and continuing through June 2014, including 60 times in one 35-day time span, according to court testimony. He stated that his original motivation was a suspicion that former Cardinals employees who had moved on to the Astros had taken St. Louis’ intellectual property with them.

The breach of Houston’s systems became public in the summer of 2014 when a number of internal Astros emails outlining player evaluations and trade discussions with other teams were posted anonymously on the internet, apparently leaked with the intention of embarrassing the club.

That triggered a federal investigation which led them to a residence in Jupiter, Florida that had been shared by Correa and other Cardinals employees during spring training. FBI agents seized computers from team offices in St. Louis in February 2015 and following an internal probe, Correa was fired that June – shortly following the draft and after news of the federal investigation became public.

Cardinals Chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. condemned the actions as “roguish behavior” and made it clear that neither he nor General Manager John Mozeliak, who had promoted Correa from director of baseball development to head of scouting in December 2014, were aware until contacted by investigators.

Correa testified when pleading guilty that he had told “colleagues” with the club about his discovery of Cardinals’ property on Houston’s systems, but was not asked – at least while in court – to name them. No other former or current employees of either team have been charged with any related crimes. Astros officials denied any wrongdoing, characterizing themselves as the “victims”.

Once Correa’s sentencing was past and the federal investigation was complete, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that MLB would ramp up its own probe of the Cardinals, aided by information requested from U.S. attorneys. Undetermined penalties are expected.

This process has continued indefinitely, with Manfred repeatedly stating that the resolution was close. As recently as early November, the commissioner said the investigation was “in the final 10 yards,” yet there is still no closure. Apparently, MLB’s red-zone offense is inefficient.

Seriously, Manfred may be struggling to strike the right balance. On one hand, he may want to establish a firm precedent to discourage team-against-team espionage, especially after characterizing himself as “intolerant” of rules violations. Of course, many both inside and outside of the game are watching this situation because of its trail-blazing nature.

On the other hand, the commissioner may not want to come down too hard on the Cardinals. At the All-Star break in July, Manfred drew a distinction between this case and the Boston Red Sox international bonus sanctions, stating at that point, he had “no indication” that Correa’s actions signaled “an organizational problem.”

That was over five months ago.

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 10 stories of the year countdown

Update: On January 30, 2017, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced the penalties to the Cardinals in this case. Full details can be found at The Cardinal Nation.

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