Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, faces bank fraud charges

LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities charged Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani’s former longtime interpreter Thursday with federal bank fraud, alleging he stole more than $16 million from the Japanese sensation to hedge his bets and his debts.

Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, a constant presence alongside Ohtani at baseball stadiums across the country since 2018, abused the two-way player’s trust in him and exploited the language barrier to plunder a bank account to which he only could gain access, prosecutors said.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said Mizuhara was so intertwined with Ohtani’s life and career that he became the star’s “de facto manager.” This role allowed him to withdraw money from the account – sometimes by lying and impersonating Ohtani to bank employees – to fund his “insatiable appetite for illegal sports betting.”

Thursday’s announcement, at a packed news conference in downtown Los Angeles, ended weeks of speculation about Mizuhara’s self-admitted gambling problems, the sweeping federal investigation and the role of Ohtani in the scandal.

Estrada said there was no evidence Ohtani knew about his interpreter’s actions, adding that Ohtani cooperated with investigators.

“I want to emphasize this point: Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case,” he said.

The criminal complaint — detailing the scheme through text messages, financial records and phone call recordings — showed that even Mizuhara knew the game was up. In a message to his illegal bookmaker on March 20, the day the Los Angeles Times And ESPN After breaking the news of the investigation, he wrote: “Technically I stole it. it’s over for me.

Mizuhara faces up to 30 years in federal prison if convicted on a single count of bank fraud. His attorney, Michael G. Freedman, declined to comment Thursday. Mizuhara’s first appearance in federal court will likely be this week.

The scale of the theft shocked the sports community, but also absolved Ohtani of his wrongdoing, the biggest shame in the game of baseball since Pete Rose was banned for life. Major League Baseball opened its own investigation after the controversy surfaced last month, and the Dodgers immediately fired Mizuhara.

“Given the information disclosed (Thursday) and other information we have already gathered, we will await the resolution of the criminal proceedings to determine whether further investigation is warranted,” MLB said in a statement.

MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from betting – even legally – on baseball. MLB also prohibits betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Ohtani left the Los Angeles Angels in December to sign a record $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers. Ohtani and Mizuhara had been daily companions since Ohtani joined the Angels in 2018. Ohtani’s baseball salaries before the Dodgers deal totaled about $40 million, although he is also expected to he earns at least tens of millions in endorsements every year.

Federal investigators say Mizuhara made approximately 19,000 bets between December 2021 and January 2024, or nearly 25 bets per day on average. Stakes ranged from $10 to $160,000 per bet, with an average of around $12,800. Estrada said investigators found no evidence that Mizuhara bet on baseball.

While Mizuhara’s winning bets totaled more than $142 million, which he deposited into his own bank account and not Ohtani’s, his losing bets totaled approximately $183 million, a net loss of nearly $41 million.

The alleged fraud also extended to the lucrative souvenir market. Investigators seized about 1,000 collectible baseball cards, including those of players such as Yogi Berra, and discovered about $325,000 in transactions with online retailers between January and March. Authorities believe Mizuhara purchased the cards on these sites with the intention of reselling them later.

Conflicting reports engulfed the start of the baseball season last month, prompting a quick filing of a lawsuit.

“We understood that there was a lot of public interest in this case,” Estrada said.

Mizuhara told ESPN on March 19, Ohtani paid his gambling debts at the request of the interpreter, claiming that the bets were on international football, the NBA, the NFL and college football.

But ESPN said Mizuhara changed his story the next day, saying Ohtani had no knowledge of the gambling debts and had not transferred any money to bookmakers.

Ohtani said he first became aware of Mizuhara’s gambling problem during a team meeting after the Dodgers’ March 20 win over the San Diego Padres in Seoul. First MLB game in South Korea.The Los Angeles Times And ESPN posted their stories a few hours later.

Five days later, Ohtani told a Dodger Stadium Press Conference that he never bet on sports nor knowingly paid the gambling debts accumulated by his interpreter. He placed full responsibility on Mizuhara and refuted the interpreter’s inconsistent accounts of whether Ohtani had repaid Mizuhara’s gambling debts.

“I am very saddened and shocked that someone I trusted did this,” the Japanese star said through a new interpreter.

“Ippei stole money from my account and lied,” Ohtani said. “I have never bet on sports and I have never voluntarily sent money to the bookmaker.”

According to the criminal complaint, Mizuhara’s case stems from a broader investigation into illegal sports betting organizations operating in Southern California and the laundering of profits through Las Vegas casinos.

“To date, these investigations have led to criminal charges and/or convictions of 12 criminal defendants and one money services business, as well as non-prosecution agreements with two Las Vegas casinos,” the complaint states. “Investigations are continuing and targeting several targets, not all of which are linked to each other. »


Associated Press writer John Antczak contributed to this report.

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