Ex-All-Star pitcher Estevan Loaiza faces federal drug charge

SAN DIEGO (AP) Former All-Star pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who last month pleaded not guilty to drug charges in California, had his case moved to federal court Wednesday.

Loaiza was charged with possessing cocaine intended for sale and transferred to federal custody, the U.S. attorney’s office announced.

The state charges were dismissed, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Loaiza, 46, was arrested last month after about 44 pounds (22 kilograms) of cocaine were found inside a minivan parked in the garage of his leased Imperial Beach townhouse, according to the federal criminal complaint.

Law enforcement agents who had been keeping an eye on an SUV suspected in drug dealing saw the Mercedes enter the garage and leave again on Feb. 9, according to the complaint.

A San Diego County sheriff’s deputy pulled over the Mercedes for a traffic violation and a drug-sniffing dog led authorities to a hidden compartment, according to prosecutors. There were no drugs in the car, but authorities got a search warrant to an address that was on Loaiza, who had been driving the SUV.

Investigators searched the townhouse and saw that it didn’t contain any furniture or personal belongings, prosecutors said. Authorities searched a Nissan minivan parked in the garage and discovered 20 packages of cocaine hidden in floor panels under several baseball bags with Loaiza’s name on it, the complaint said.

Loaiza had crossed the Mexican border earlier that same day, prosecutors have said.

An email to his attorney in the state case, Janice Deaton, was not immediately returned.

Born in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, Loaiza became a star athlete in the U.S. He played for numerous teams between 1995 and 2008, including the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago White Sox. He had a 21-9 record with the Chicago White Sox in 2003 and started in the All-Star Game that year.

He last appeared in the majors in 2008 with the White Sox.

Two years later, he married Mexican-American singer Jenni Rivera. The ”Diva de la Banda” was considered to be the most successful female singer in grupero, a male-dominated Mexico regional style, selling more than 15 million records, and acting in reality television before she was killed in a plane crash in 2012.

She filed for divorce shortly before her death, ending their two-year marriage.