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Ohtani’s ex-interpreter pleads guilty, admits to stealing $17M

SANTA ANA, Calif. — The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani pleaded guilty to bank and tax fraud on Tuesday and admitted to stealing nearly $17 million from the Japanese baseball player to pay off sports betting debts.

Ippei Mizuhara’s crimes stunned the baseball world, shattering his image as Ohtani’s shadow at ballparks around the U.S. He entered his guilty plea Tuesday in federal court in Santa Ana, California.

The ex-interpreter had exploited his personal and professional relationship with Ohtani to plunder millions from the two-way player’s account for years, at times impersonating Ohtani to bankers. Mizuhara signed a plea agreement that detailed the allegations on May 5, and prosecutors announced it several days later.

Mizuhara’s attorney declined to comment outside the courthouse. Mizuhara spoke briefly in court acknowledging his guilt. “I worked for victim A and had access to his bank account and had fallen into major gambling debt,” he told the court. “I went ahead and wired money … with his bank account.”

Federal prosecutors were scheduled to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“Now that the investigation has been completed, this full admission of guilt has brought important closure to me and my family. I want to sincerely thank the authorities for finishing their thorough and effective investigation so quickly and uncovering all of the evidence,” Ohtani said in a statement.

“This has been a uniquely challenging time, so I am especially grateful for my support team - my family, agent, agency, lawyers, and advisors along with the entire Dodger organization, who showed endless support throughout this process.

“It’s time to close this chapter, move on and continue to focus on playing and winning ballgames.”

Tuesday’s court hearing lasted approximately 45 minutes.

Potential prison sentence

Mizuhara’s winning bets totaled over $142 million, which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s. But his losing bets were around $183 million, a net loss of nearly $41 million. He did not wager on baseball.

Mizuhara pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return. The bank fraud charge carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, and the false tax return charge carries a sentence of up to three years in federal prison. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25.

He also is required to pay Ohtani restitution that could total nearly $17 million, as well as more than $1 million to the IRS. Those amounts, however, could change prior to sentencing.

Federal prosecutor Jeff Mitchell told the court Mizuhara was hired as an interpreter for a Major League Baseball player who didn’t speak English, and helped translate between him and his financial advisors, who did not speak Japanese. In 2018, Mizuhara helped the player open a bank account in Phoenix to deposit payroll and received login information for the account, Mitchell said.

When Mizuhara was unable to pay sports gambling debts, he deceived the bank to get money from the account to pay them off, Mitchell said. He did this by signing into the account online and changing the registered phone number and email for the account so communication would be routed to Mizuhara instead of the player, Mitchell said. On multiple occasions from 2021 to 2024, Mizuhara initiated wire transfers from the account and received a six-digit code from the bank to complete the transactions, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the amounts transferred exceeded $16 million.

No evidence of Ohtani involvement

Mizuhara’s plea deal was negotiated with prosecutors before he was even arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles in mid-May. He was initially charged with one count of bank fraud.

There was no evidence Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara’s gambling, and the player cooperated with investigators, authorities said.

The Los Angeles Times and ESPN broke the news of the prosecution in late March, prompting the Dodgers to fire the interpreter and MLB to open its own investigation.

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

In a statement Tuesday, MLB said: “Based on the thoroughness of the federal investigation that was made public, the information MLB collected, and the criminal proceeding being resolved without being contested, MLB considers Shohei Ohtani a victim of fraud and this matter has been closed.”

Ohtani has sought to focus on the field as the case winds through the courts. Hours after his ex-interpreter first appeared in court in April, he hit his 175th home run in MLB, tying Hideki Matsui for the most by a Japan-born player, during the Dodgers’ 8-7 loss to the San Diego Padres in 11 innings.

Mizuhara’s hearing came hours after MLB banned San Diego Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano from baseball for life in the wake of another gambling scandal. MLB said Marcano placed 387 baseball bets totaling more than $150,000 in October 2022 and from last July through November with a legal sportsbook. He became the first active player in a century banned for life because of gambling. Four others were suspended Tuesday.

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