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Ohtani’s ex-interpreter charged with stealing $16M in sports betting case

LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities charged the former longtime interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani on Thursday with federal bank fraud, alleging that he stole more than $16 million from the Japanese sensation to cover gambling debts.

Ippei Mizuhara served as Ohtani’s interpreter after Ohtani came to the U.S. in 2018 to play baseball. U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said Mizhuara “acted as Mr. Ohtani’s de facto manager.”

Mizuhara helped Ohtani set up a bank account for Ohtani’s baseball salary, and stole more than $16 million from Ohtani’s bank accounts to pay for his own sports betting and lied to the bank to access the account, Estrada said.

Mizuhara was able to “use and abuse” his position of trust with Ohtani “in order to plunder Mr. Ohtani’s bank account, he said. Estrada also confirmed that when Mizuhara would win on sports bets, he did not deposit the money into Ohtani’s account.

“Mr. Mizuhara did all this to feed his insatiable appetite for illegal sports betting,” Estrada said, adding the complaint alleges he committed fraud “on a massive scale.”

Estrada said there is no evidence that Ohtani was aware of his interpreter’s actions, adding that Ohtani has cooperated fully and completely with investigators.

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

Mizuhara is expected to appear in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles for his initial appearance in the near future, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release.

“We have no comment at this time,” Michael G. Freedman, Mizuhara’s attorney, said in an email to The Associated Press after the charge was announced.

The maximum penalty for the bank fraud charge Mizuhara faces is 30 years in prison.

Mizuhara was abruptly fired by the team after the scandal surfaced last month, catalyzed by an IRS Criminal Investigation of an alleged illegal bookmaker. Major League Baseball opened a separate investigation.

Ohtani subsequently laid out a version of events that placed responsibility entirely on Mizuhara, who had given conflicting accounts of whether Ohtani had paid off Mizuhara’s gambling debts.

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 prior to the Dodgers deal totaled around $40 million, although it’s also expected he earns tens of millions at least in endorsements each year.

Mizuhara told ESPN on March 19 that Ohtani paid his gambling debts at the interpreter’s request, saying the bets were on international soccer, 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.

On March 25, Ohtani told a Dodger Stadium press conference that he never bet on sports or knowingly paid any gambling debts accumulated by his interpreter.

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

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies,” Ohtani said. “I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker.”

Ohtani said he first became aware of Mizuhara’s gambling problem during a team meeting after a season-opening victory over the San Diego Padres in Seoul, South Korea.

The investigation moved at a quick speed, with the charges coming about three weeks after news of the scandal broke.

“We understood there was a significant amount of public interest in this case,” Estrada said. “While we were able to work on this case rapidly, it was a very thorough investigation.”

According to the criminal complaint, the Mizuhara case stemmed from a broader probe of illegal sports bookmaking organizations operating in Southern California and the laundering of proceeds through casinos in Las Vegas.

“To date, these investigations have led to criminal charges and/or convictions of 12 criminal defendants and one money service business, as well as non-prosecution agreements with two Las Vegas casinos,” the complaint said. “The investigations remain ongoing and have multiple targets, not all of whom are related to each other.”

There has been no information about the status of baseball’s separate investigation. MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering — even legally — on baseball. They also ban betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

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