Ohtani’s former interpreter charged with fraud, accused of stealing $16 million

Baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter has been charged with bank fraud, for allegedly stealing $16 million from Ohtani, federal prosecutors announced. Investigators say Ohtani was unaware of the theft, which purportedly went to pay the interpreter's gambling debts.

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April 11, 2024 - 1:51 PM

This picture taken on March 16, shows Los Angeles Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani (right) and his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara (left) attending a press conference at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul ahead of the 2024 MLB Seoul Series baseball game between Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. The Los Angeles Dodgers said on March 21 they had fired Shohei Ohtani's interpreter after the Japanese baseball star's representatives claimed he had been the victim of "a massive theft" reported to involve millions of dollars. Photo by Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images/TNS

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The former longtime interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani is being charged with federal bank fraud for crimes involving gambling debts and theft of more than $16 million from the Japanese sensation, federal authorities said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada announced the charges Thursday.

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

Estrada says Mizuhara helped Ohtani set up a bank account for Ohtani’s baseball salary. Estrada says Mizuhara 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 says Mizuhara was able to “use and abuse” his position of trust with Ohtani “in order to plunder Mr. Ohtani’s bank account. 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 says 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.

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