ORLANDO, FLA. - Tucked deep inside a double-gated community here, Belkis Rodriguez and her two children live in a nearly $1-million Spanish-colonial mansion with a swimming pool, outdoor kitchen and perfectly manicured lawn.
Nearly 1,200 miles away, behind another gated mansion lives the famous father of the Rodriguez children: Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, who resides in a $3.2 million Grosse Pointe Farms lakefront home with his wife and three children.
The Cabreras have a swimming pool, too.
The home where Belkis Rodriguez who is suing Detroit Tigers player Miguel Cabrera in a paternity suit filed in Orange County Circuit Court in Orlando, Fla. is seen in the Eagle Creek community in Orlando, Fla. is seen on Tuesday October 17, 2017. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)
But Rodriguez — who was married and lived paycheck to paycheck in a modest apartment when she met the baseball star years ago — believes her children are getting short-changed. Cabrera pays her at least $12,000-a-month in child support, records show, though she contends they deserve more under Florida law. Moreover, she believes they're entitled to a similar standard of living as the children Cabrera fathered with his wife.
And so after years of keeping secret her relationship with the two-time American League MVP, the once-quiet, 5-foot-2 mistress is making a lot of noise in court to make that happen.
In a showdown in Florida's Orange County Circuit Court, Rodriguez is pursuing a paternity suit against Cabrera that portrays him as a selfish man who got her pregnant twice, helped her buy a nice big house and pay the bills, but then "left her high and dry" with a lifestyle she can't afford for her children. She also drives a Range Rover.
The one-time pharmacist intern now owns a bare-bones flower shop next to a parking garage in downtown Orlando that is rarely open, has no signage in the window and is mainly run by a sister named Maria who doesn't want to talk about the scandal.
Lake Eola Florist shop in downtown Orlando owned by Belkis Rodriguez the woman who is suing Detroit Tigers player Miguel Cabrera in a paternity suit filed in Orange County Circuit Court in Orlando, Fla. is seen on Wednesday October 18, 2017. (Photo: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)
Neither does Rodriguez, who turned a Free Press reporter and photographer away at the big iron gate to her country club community that straddles a golf course.
"Thanks for your interest, but I have no comments," the 35-year-old mother told the Free Press in an e-mail.
Here, according to court records and people who know her, is what she doesn't want to talk about:
Rodriguez and Cabrera dated for about five years and have a son and daughter together. His name is on the birth certificates of both children, who have often traveled with their mother to see Cabrera. Rodriguez, who like Cabrera is a Venezuelan immigrant, was married when they met and seven months pregnant with his son when her divorce was finalized from a man who served time in prison for car theft.
Cabrera says that since his children with Rodriguez were born, he has consistently paid child support — at least $12,000 a month — and gave her "substantial funds" to buy the 3,704-square-foot house. But she believes she's entitled to more — a lot more. Under Florida's child-support guidelines, attorneys for Rodriguez claim she could get up to $100,000 a month in child support given Cabrera's wealth.
The slugger made $30 million in 2017 alone and was the highest-paid baseball player in MLB history in 2014 with a record $248 million extension deal signed with the Tigers that year.
Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) wipes his forehead in the dugout before the game against the Chicago White Sox on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, at Comerica Park. (Photo: Raj Mehta USA TODAY Sports)
Rodriguez, who turned 35 on Friday, claims in court filings that Cabrera gave her no option but to sue him. She alleges that he "unilaterally" reduced her child support payments after helping her buy the 3,700-square-foot, five-bedroom, six-bathroom home that's located in a gated community within a gated community, with the ritzy Eagle Creek golf course in her backyard.
She bought the home in April. Four months later, she filed her paternity suit, which hit Cabrera during perhaps one of his lowest points as he is coming off a career-worst season in which he hit .249 with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs.
Miguel Cabrera bats against the Dodgers in the third inning Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 at Comerica Park. (Photo: Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
At the heart of the lawsuit is an all-too familiar question involving misbehaving celebrities: What are their children conceived out of wedlock entitled to?
In court filings, Cabrera contends that asking for additional payments amounts to extortion, alleging Rodriguez is trying to squeeze alimony out of him when they were never married. He also objects to her asking him how much money he spends on his wife and their three kids, noting she's requested for records on everything from tuition and vacations to field trips and lunch money.
"Unfortunately, (Rodriguez) is not satisfied with the substantial child support she is receiving from (Cabrera), so she is now embarking on a mission to extort additional moneys to be used for her benefit under the guise of child support, Cabrera's West Palm Beach lawyer, Benjamin Hodas, wrote in a September filing.
And her demands for information about his wife and three kids, Hodas added, go "beyond the bounds of decency."
Rodriguez's lawyers called Cabrera's extortion claim "egregious."
"It is important to note that (Cabrera) attempts to portray his payment of child support as being overly generous, when in fact ... it is insufficient," Orlando attorney Terry Young, a lawyer for Rodriguez wrote in a Sept. 21 filing, stressing: "Based on (Cabrera's) significant income, these children should share in their father's good fortune."
And it doesn't matter that Cabrera didn't marry their mother, Young contends.
"Who (the) father has these children by has nothing to do with the fact that they are his children," Young argues. "(Cabrera's) position that these children should somehow be treated lesser just because they are not children with his spouse is simply hurtful."
The lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 7, is headed for mediation, scheduled to begin Wednesday.
Five months before Rodriguez filed her paternity suit, Cabrera's wife, Rosangel, filed for divorce in Miami-Dade County. The reason is not known, though she had a change of heart at some point and changed her mind about the divorce. Her lawyer, Miami attorney Jason Marks, told the Free Press on Friday: "The case has been dismissed."
The Cabreras have been together since they were 15.
In the fall of September 2012, Rodriguez was making a little more than $1,000 a week as a pharmacist intern at a Walgreens in Florida and living in a $1,200-a-month apartment. She was pregnant at the time, going through a divorce, but her husband was "not the father," according to her 2012 divorce filing.
A financial affidavit filed in her divorce case said she lived paycheck to paycheck and had about $10 left over at the end of every month, after paying her living expenses, which included $50 for clothes, $200 for entertainment and $400 for restaurant food, or "meals outside the home."
Divorce documents did not list the father's name of her unborn child, stating only that the baby was due on Jan. 24, 2013. Her then-husband acknowledged in documents that he was not the father. They married in February 2010 and separated 19 months later. During their marriage, the husband was convicted of car theft and served time in prison in Las Vegas.
Rodriguez's divorce was finalized in November 2012. Two months later, she gave birth to a son. It was Cabrera's child, court records show.
Two years later, Rodriguez had a second child with Cabrera, this time a daughter. The relationship and the children stayed secret from the public for years, until Rodriguez filed her paternity suit.
It isn't clear from court records how Rodriquez and Cabrera met, but Orlando is about 50 miles from Lakeland, Fla., the Tigers' spring training home.
"All I know is that they were together for several years and she traveled with the kids to see him," Louis Roman of Orlando, one of Rodriguez's friends, told the Free Press in an e-mail. He declined to elaborate.
His wife, Jayssa Roman, had only words of praise for Rodriguez, saying: "I'm friends with Mariela. All I can tell you is that she's a great person and an excellent mother."
Mariela is Rodriguez's middle name, and the name she uses on Facebook, where she has posted pictures of herself attending Cabrera's baseball games. Her Facebook profile picture shows her donning a bright yellow bikini.
"She's a pretty good looking woman — got a nice looking figure," said a woman named Gloria, who owns the deli shop next door to Rodriguez's flower business.
Gloria, who declined to give her last name, said she and her husband, George, don't know much about Rodriguez, other than she's Venezuelan and was pregnant when she bought the business about two years ago.
"We don't talk to her because they don't speak English," Gloria said. "We don't know that much about them. They're private people."
The court battle
For Cabrera's attorney, those social media posts — along with details about Cabrera's finances that the other side has disclosed in court documents — are cause for concern.
"(Rodriguez) has demonstrated behavior in the past that gives (Cabrera) concern for (Rodriguez's) willingness to keep (his) personal life private, through verbal statements and on social media," attorney Benjamin Hodas wrote in court documents.
Hodas has asked the court to issue a confidentiality order to prevent sensitive and personal information about Cabrera from being made public.
"(Cabrera) is a well-known professional baseball player in Major League Baseball. His image and reputation are subject to public scrutiny, and maintaining the utmost amount of discretion in this legal matter is essential to him and his career," Hodas wrote, noting his income is generated by his baseball contract and endorsement deals that could be hurt by the release of personal and financial information.
"There is no reason for (Cabrera's) private information to become part of a public record other than to harass and/or embarrass (him) and potentially damage his career," Hodas wrote.
Not only is Rodriguez asking for too much money, Cabrera claims, but she's asking for too much information about his current family and how much he spends on his wife and their children.
For example, according to the lawsuit, Rodriguez wants to know how much money Cabrera spends on the following:
- Tuition and extracurricular activities for his children
- Family vacations
- Birthday parties, birthday gifts, private lessons, lunch money, field trips
- Clothing, entertainment and makeup
- Organizations or clubs and college plans
Cabrera is also asking for paternity tests, though there's nothing in the more than 200-page paternity filing that explains why. He also wants any excessive money that he's ordered to pay that goes beyond the children's actual needs to be placed in a trust or a college fund.
In court documents, Rodriguez's lawyers have called Cabrera's extortion claims "egregiously false."
"She has never attempted to 'extort' (Cabrera) for unreasonable sums of money in the hopes of securing 'alimony' for herself," wrote Young, whose top-drawer Orlando law firm is representing Rodriguez. "These minor children have done nothing wrong and certainly deserve the appropriate support from their father as Florida law requires."
Young, who declined to talk to the Free Press, also attacked Cabrera's characterization of his client.
"(Cabrera) attempts to portray (the) mother as some villainous criminal attempting to 'extort' him for money ... when just the opposite is the case. (She) has made every attempt to work with (the) father over the years regarding child support," Young wrote. "However, (Cabrera's) recent decision to unilaterally reduce the child support to an amount not sufficient to meet the current needs of the minor children ... has left her with no choice but to pursue legal action to which the minor children — not her — are entitled."
Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera. (Photo: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports)
Cabrera's attorney, Hodas, declined comment.
The Tigers have declined comment on Cabrera's paternity suit.
At a press conference Friday, Tigers General Manager Al Avila was asked whether he thought Cabrera's personal issues, including the potential divorce and paternity suit, added to his struggles at the plate.
Avila responded: “I’m not going to address any of his personal issues because those are all personal. But for me, I do believe that the main reason that Miguel Cabrera did not perform as well as we’re accustomed to seeing is because of his injuries ... He’s got a great tolerance for pain. But at the end of the day, I think that’s what affected him most."
And Avila isn't giving up on Cabrera, noting: "I fully expect a fully healthy Miguel Cabrera to come back and getting back to producing.”
In April, a New York judge ruled against the ex-mistress of Mets third baseman Jose Reyes in her fight for more child support for their 7-year-old child born out of wedlock. The judge ruled that Reyes, who is married and makes $22 million a year, would continue to pay his ex-mistress $11,500 a month even though she asked for almost quadruple that amount.
Rodriguez can expect a similar outcome, noted family law expert Lynne Gold-Bikin, the past chairwoman of the American Bar Association’s Section of Family Law. She believes Rodriguez is fighting an uphill battle.
After 41 years of practicing family law and representing multiple celebrities in similar lawsuits — including professional football players — Gold-Bikin said judges have not been sympathetic to women who have children out of wedlock with celebrities and seek a lot of money.
"These women claim, 'Poor me. Poor me. I should get the same amount of money that (their wives') kids get, and most of the judges say, 'You gotta be kidding me,' " said Gold-Bikin, who believes asking Cabrera for $100,000 a month is out of line.
"Nobody needs $100,000 a month for two kids," she said.
And Rodriguez's claim that her kids deserve as much as Cabrera's children he has with his wife is likely to fail, she said.
"I can't imagine a judge will say she's entitled to what the other kids get," said Gold-Bikin, noting judges typically tell women in Rodriguez's shoes: ' "You knew what you were doing. You knew he was married. You knew he wouldn't leave his wife. Move along.' "
Gold-Bikin cited one of her cases where this scenario played out. A doctor who had an affair with a professional football player got pregnant and sued for $50,000 a month in child support. She ended up with $5,000 a month. And when the child turned 15, he ended up moving in with his NFL-er father.
"Judges normally are rational," Gold-Bikin said, recalling the case. "She was a doctor. She wanted $50,000 a month. Really? Uh, No."
Cabrera has the same mindset, if his court filings are any indication. In arguing against paying Rodriguez more money just because of his wealth, Cabrera's lawyer cited case law that says courts — when determining child support in cases involving extremely wealthy parents — need not do the following:
"Ensure that the child of a wealthy parent will own a Rolls Royce.... be driven to school every day in a chauffeured limousine ... or create a class of children who are unduly pampered in the name of sharing in the non-custodial parent's good fortune."
Cabrera had none of that. The Venezuelan native became a millionaire on his own, at the age of 16, when the Florida Marlins signed him for $1.8 million on July 2, 1999.
His fortune would swell over the years. By 2014, he would secure a $248-million contract extension with the Tigers, the largest extension in baseball history at that time. According to Baseball-Reference, he has earned $216 million in his career and has $184 million in future salaries.
Rodriguez hopes to get a good chunk of it.
© 2017 Detroit Free Press