Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter fired amid illegal betting, ‘massive theft’ allegations

Click to play video: '‘Saddened and shocked’: Ohtani accuses interpreter of stealing money, lying'
‘Saddened and shocked’: Ohtani accuses interpreter of stealing money, lying
WATCH: Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani says he is "saddened and shocked" by the accusations that his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, stole money from him and used it for illegal gambling. Eric Sorensen looks at the alleged wire transfers made, the questions over whether Ohtani himself had any involvement, and what else the pitcher had to say about the case – Mar 25, 2024

Superstar baseball player Shohei Ohtani is at the centre of a murky story concerning his longtime friend and English-language interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, who was fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday amid allegations he engaged in illegal gambling and stole from the player.

Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani, right, chats with his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara during an exhibition baseball game between Team Korea and the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, March 18, 2024. AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The allegations came to light following reports from ESPN and the Los Angeles Times, which began digging into Ohtani’s finances over questionable wire transfers he allegedly made to a bookmaking operation currently under federal investigation. The wire transfers were allegedly to the tune of millions.

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Ohtani’s lawyers claim that the player has been “the victim of a massive theft.” But in a now-recanted interview, Mizuhara told ESPN he asked Ohtani to pay off his gambling debts and the player agreed.

All we know for certain is that Mizuhara has been terminated by the Dodgers. The team said they are “aware of media reports and are gathering information” but had “no further comment at this time.”

Breaking down the allegations

Mizuhara, 39, is a recognizable face in baseball as a constant presence beside Ohtani, 29. The interpreter first met the baseball phenom in 2013 when they both worked for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters team in Japan. From there, Mizuhara followed Ohtani to the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, and, most recently, to the Dodgers.

The Los Angeles Angels’ Shohei Ohtani, right, laughs as he talks to his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara in the dugout during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Outside of their professional relationship, Mizuhara and Ohtani appear to have a close bond, which makes news of their fallout all the more shocking to baseball fans.

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The Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani, right, jogs onto a practice field with interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, left, as he arrives for spring training baseball workouts at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix, Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Phoenix. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

The story appears to begin with reporters asking questions about Ohtani’s alleged million-dollar wire transfers to bookmaker Mathew Bowyer, whose home was raided last year as part of a federal investigation into illegal gambling. A source told the L.A. Times that Ohtani’s representatives began looking into Mizuhara in response to the Times’ questions.

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Sports gambling is illegal in California, even as 38 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of it.

Initially, a spokesperson for Ohtani told ESPN that the player had transferred the funds to pay off Mizuhara’s gambling debt. The spokesperson also arranged for ESPN to conduct a 90-minute interview with Mizuhara.

During the interview, Mizuhara laid out how he had placed sports bets on DraftKings and through Bowyer, though he claims he didn’t know what he was doing was illegal. He said he never bet on MLB games, only on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football.

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Mizuhara added that he estimated his losses were more than US$1 million by the end of 2022, and they only grew from there. He said he started betting on credit (not paying upfront on wagers) with Bowyer after meeting him at a poker game in 2021.

“I’m terrible (at gambling). Never going to do it again. Never won any money,” Mizuhara said. “I mean, I dug myself a hole and it kept on getting bigger, and it meant I had to bet bigger to get out of it and just kept on losing. It’s like a snowball effect.”

He then asked Ohtani to help him pay off the debts. In December 2023, Ohtani inked what is considered the largest sports deal in history when he agreed to join the Dodgers on a 10-year, US$700-million contract.

“Obviously, he (Ohtani) wasn’t happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again,” Mizuhara said. “He decided to pay it off for me.”

Click to play video: 'MLB star Shohei Ohtani signs with L.A. Dodgers in record-breaking $700M deal'
MLB star Shohei Ohtani signs with L.A. Dodgers in record-breaking $700M deal

Ohtani paid the debts himself on his own computer, Mizuhara said, and he set up monthly instalments. ESPN said it viewed two of the transactions, each totalling US$500,000, with “Shohei Otani,” the player’s legal Japanese name, listed. In the wire transfer information was the word “loan.”

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When asked why Ohtani didn’t just give Mizuhara the money to pay the debt himself, the former interpreter said Ohtani didn’t trust him and “didn’t want me to gamble it away.”

“I want everyone to know Shohei had zero involvement in betting. I want people to know I did not know this was illegal. I learned my lesson the hard way. I will never do sports betting ever again.”

A day after Mizuhara’s interview with ESPN, Ohtani’s spokesperson reached out again and disavowed Mizuhara’s account.

That’s when Ohtani’s lawyers at Berk Brettler LLP issued a statement, writing: “In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities.”

ESPN reached back out to Mizuhara in the wake of the theft allegation made by Ohtani’s lawyers but he said he was told he could not comment and declined to say who gave him that advice. He also contradicted his earlier account and asserted that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling debts and the player did not transfer any money to the bookmaker.

It’s unclear why Mizuhara recanted his earlier statements.

The MLB gambling policy, posted in every locker room, prohibits players and team employees from wagering — even legally — on baseball and also bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers. Betting on baseball is punishable with a one-year ban from the sport. The penalty for betting on other sports illegally is at the commissioner’s discretion.

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Bowyer has yet to be charged with any crime in the current federal investigation. He has had prior run-ins with the law for defaulting on a line of credit at a Connecticut casino and allegedly bouncing a check at a Las Vegas casino.

— with files from The Associated Press

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