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What Ippei Mizuhara’s guilty plea negotiations could mean for Shohei Ohtani

For the past three weeks, Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani has been playing baseball without his closest professional companion. Ippei Mizuhara acted as Ohtani’s interpreter for six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels and last spring with the Dodgers. The two men went to the stadium together, shared meals and followed identical schedules. Mizuhara effectively served as Ohtani’s shadow – until he became the central figure in a gambling scandal that broke in late March.

This cloud over Ohtani may soon dissipate. The New York Times reported Wednesday evening that Mizuhara was negotiating with federal authorities to plead guilty to charges related to stealing at least $4.5 million to pay off his gambling debts. Federal authorities began investigating Mizuhara when the scandal broke and the investigation would be on the verge of conclusion.

The scandal hasn’t hampered Ohtani or the Dodgers on the field, but it has sparked a series of questions about the two-way star. A finding from the investigation into Mizuhara could answer some of these questions.

What does this mean for Ohtani?

A guilty plea from Mizuhara could corroborate Ohtani’s version of events, presented by Ohtani in a statement on March 25 through his new interpreter Will Ireton. When the story broke five days earlier, ESPN relayed two different versions of events based on interviews with Mizuhara. In the first, Mizuhara said Ohtani paid off his gambling debts, hoping to help a friend. In the second, Mizuhara recanted but refused to provide details of how the money was paid to Mathew Bowyer, an alleged illegal bookmaker. The discrepancy between the two narratives has sparked skepticism, both within baseball and beyond.

“The story changed in 24 hours,” Dave Sharapan, a veteran Vegas bettor, said in a conversation last week. “Isn’t that what’s curious?” He added: “That part got a lot of people saying, ‘Geez, which do you believe, the before or the after?’ » »

Ohtani said he has never bet on baseball or any other sport. He described himself as oblivious to Mizuhara’s gambling habits. (Mizuhara had said he met Bowyer at a poker game in 2021.) He said Mizuhara never informed him that the media was asking him how Ohtani’s name ended up in Bowyer’s archives. Mizuhara first informed Ohtani’s representatives that Ohtani had paid his debts, Ohtani said.

“Ippei stole money from my account and lied,” Ohtani said via Ireton.

Ohtani’s story still raised doubts and led to questions about its plausibility. How did Mizuhara gain access to the accounts? Why didn’t anyone else from Ohtani’s camp notice the missing money? The Times reported that federal investigators uncovered evidence that Mizuhara manipulated certain accounts so that Ohtani would not receive notifications about the transactions. It is unclear whether Mizuhara will admit to wrongdoing of this nature.

Ohtani has not been accused of any wrongdoing. He has not been named in the ongoing investigation into Mizuhara and Bowyer, conducted jointly by the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

How will this impact MLB’s investigation?

Major League Baseball launched an investigation shortly after the story broke. An MLB spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday evening. If Mizuhara pleads guilty and accepts responsibility for transferring money from Ohtani’s account to Bowyer, it is unclear whether MLB will continue the investigation. Ohtani has denied any sports betting, and a lawyer for Bowyer said the bookmaker never accepted any bets from Ohtani.

The penalties for betting on baseball are significant. An MLB employee who bets on a game he participated in faces a lifetime ban. Betting on other MLB games deserves a one-year suspension. Penalties are less severe for illegal betting on sports other than baseball. Precedent suggests that the guilty party would be fined, at the discretion of the commissioner’s office.

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MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred had said he hoped the league’s investigation would be brief. “Given how the story unfolded, it is important, to assure our fans of the integrity of the game, to verify the things Mr. Ohtani said, and it is as simple as that.” , Manfred told MLB Network on March 28.

No evidence remains that Ohtani bet on baseball or any other sport.

Will Ohtani remedy the situation?

Ohtani does not speak regularly to journalists. He did not respond to questions about Mizuhara during his March 25 statement. He politely declined direct questions about Mizuhara by Los Angeles Times columnist Dylan Hernández, who speaks Japanese, on March 28.

“I’ve said everything I can say at this point,” Ohtani told Hernández in Japanese.

That could change, perhaps later this week or early next, if Mizuhara pleads guilty. Ohtani is expected to wait until negotiations between Mizuhara’s lawyers and federal authorities are finalized. He can then talk about the situation, but he can once again refuse to answer questions.

In the field, Ohtani did his normal damage as a hitter, hitting .333 with a 1.012 OPS and three homers for the Dodgers, who took their customary place atop the National League West.

(Top photo of Mizuhara and Ohtani: Keith Birmingham / MediaNews Group / Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

News Source : theathletic.com
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