Shohei Ohtani's ex-interpreter enters plea as bombshell gambling case goes to court

Los Angeles, California - Athlete Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, pleaded guilty on Tuesday in federal court to stealing nearly $17 million from the baseball star to pay off illegal gambling debts.

Ippei Mizuhara (c.) has agreed to plead guilty over charges of illegally transferring nearly $17 million from Shohei Ohtani's bank account in order to pay off gambling debts.
Ippei Mizuhara (c.) has agreed to plead guilty over charges of illegally transferring nearly $17 million from Shohei Ohtani's bank account in order to pay off gambling debts.  © Frederic J. BROWN / AFP

Mizuhara has admitted to one count of bank fraud, which carries a maximum 30-year prison sentence, and one count of filing a false tax return, which has a maximum three-year prison sentence, according to the US Attorney's Office.

US District Judge John Holcomb has scheduled sentencing for October 25.

Mizuhara (39) appeared at a hearing in federal court in Santa Ana, mobbed by photographers as he entered the courthouse after reaching a deal with prosecutors as part of a broader federal sports gambling investigation.

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Los Angeles Dodgers' star Ohtani's long-time friend took millions of dollars from the star's bank account to finance an "insatiable appetite" for illegal sports gambling, prosecutors said.

Mizuhara surrendered to federal authorities on April 12 and was released on bond.

After an initial April court appearance, Mizuhara's lawyer said his client wished to apologize to "Ohtani, the Dodgers, and Major League Baseball" for his actions and wanted to "take responsibility" for what he had done.

The revelations surrounding Mizuhara erupted as the baseball season began in March, but prosecutors have stressed that Ohtani was an innocent victim of Mizuhara's deception and that there was no evidence to suggest the Dodgers star was aware of illegal gambling or involved in such matters.

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Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani has denied any knowledge of illegal gambling by his former interpreter.
Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani has denied any knowledge of illegal gambling by his former interpreter.  © Harry How / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Mizuhara had worked for Ohtani as an interpreter since the Japanese star joined the Los Angeles Angels six years ago, setting up a bank account for Ohtani in Arizona, the eventual source of wire transfers by Mizuhara to the illegal gambling operation, US Attorney Martin Estrada said.

Estrada said Mizuhara allegedly lied to bank officials and was recorded on telephone calls impersonating Ohtani to "convince the bank to approve large wire transfers of large amounts of money to the bookmakers."

Estrada said Mizuhara would "plunder" Ohtani's bank account to commit "fraud on a massive scale."

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A criminal complaint released by prosecutors detailed a staggering volume of bets placed by Mizuhara, who exploited the language barrier to keep Ohtani, his management team, and financial advisers unaware of his moves.

The complaint revealed that between December 2021 and January 2024, Mizuhara placed approximately 19,000 bets ranging in value from $10 to $160,000 at an average of around $12,800 per bet. Mizuhara had winning bets worth $142.3 million and losing bets of $182.9 million – leaving him with losses of roughly $40.7 million.

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara earlier this year once the investigation became public.

Ohtani denied any knowledge of Mizuhara's activities, saying, "I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to bet on my behalf," adding that Mizuhara "has been stealing money from my account and has told lies."

Estrada said no illegal bets by Mizuhara were placed on baseball games. Prosecutors said Mizuhara took money from Ohtani to pay for $325,000 in baseball cards and $60,000 worth of dental work.

The tax return charge stems from 2022, in which Mizuhara claimed only $136,865 in taxable income when the true figure, prosecutors said, was above $4.1 million. In the plea deal, Mizuhara admitted owing more than $1.1 million in 2022 taxes.

Cover photo: Collage: Harry How / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP & Frederic J. Brown / AFP

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