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Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter stole $16M from MLB star for gambling debt: U.S. DOJ

Click to play video: 'Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara charged with stealing $16M from MLB star'
Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara charged with stealing $16M from MLB star
WATCH: The U.S. Justice Department announced in Los Angeles, Calif., on Thursday that Ippei Mizuhara, former interpreter for L.A. Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani, faces federal charges over allegations he stole millions from MLB's highest-paid player in a gambling scheme – Apr 11, 2024

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.

Click to play video: '‘Saddened and shocked’: Ohtani accuses interpreter of stealing money, lying'
‘Saddened and shocked’: Ohtani accuses interpreter of stealing money, lying

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.

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“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.

Click to play video: 'Ohtani scandal: Dodgers fire MLB superstar’s longtime interpreter'
Ohtani scandal: Dodgers fire MLB superstar’s longtime interpreter

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.

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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.

Click to play video: 'A closer look at sports betting controversies'
A closer look at sports betting controversies

“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.”

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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.”

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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