Shohei Ohtani’s Ex-interpreter Surrenders to Authorities After Allegedly Stealing $16 Million

By Reuters
April 12, 2024Sports News
Shohei Ohtani’s Ex-interpreter Surrenders to Authorities After Allegedly Stealing $16 Million
Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara (L) at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 27, 2024. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES—Japanese baseball great Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter was released on bond and apologized through a lawyer after appearing in court on a bank fraud charge accusing him of stealing $16 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers star to cover illegal gambling debts.

Ippei Mizuhara, 39, who surrendered to authorities earlier in the day, did not enter a plea during a 25-minute proceeding before a U.S. District Court magistrate judge in downtown Los Angeles. He was ordered to return for an arraignment on May 9.

But Mr. Mizuhara’s attorney, Michael Freedman, issued a statement later Friday saying his client “wishes to apologize to Mr. Ohtani, the Dodgers, Major League Baseball, and his family.”

“He is continuing to cooperate with the legal process and is hopeful that he can reach an agreement with the government to resolve this case as quickly as possible so that he can take responsibility,” Mr. Freedman said. The comment suggested Mr. Mizuhara was negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors.

The hearing came a day after prosecutors charged Mr. Mizuhara and publicly exonerated Mr. Ohtani in a case that had threatened to embroil the Dodgers, the MLB, and a power-hitting pitcher regarded as a national hero in his home country.

“For me personally, this marks a break from this, and I’d like to focus on baseball,” the Los Angeles Times quoted Mr. Ohtani as saying on Friday in his first public comments since his former interpreter was charged.

Mr. Mizuhara, dressed in a dark suit, said little during his hearing except to answer “yes” to a number of questions posed by the judge, Maria Audero. He was initially wearing ankle shackles, which were removed in court at his lawyer’s request.

Gambling Addiction Treatment Ordered

Judge Audero set bond at $25,000, saying he had no prior criminal record and with ties to the community was not considered a flight risk. But she ordered Mr. Mizuhara to undergo gambling addiction treatment and refrain from any contact with bookmakers or Mr. Ohtani.

Mr. Freedman described his client in court as eager to seek treatment for his gambling.

Under an agreement reached with prosecutors in advance, Mr. Mizuhara had turned himself over to law enforcement on Friday morning. He was freed from custody once processed for release following Friday’s hearing, Freedman said.

A 36-page federal criminal complaint and affidavit filed on Thursday in federal court alleges that Mr. Mizuhara engaged in bank fraud by embezzling $16 million from an account of Mr. Ohtani’s that Mr. Mizuhara had helped set up.

Mr. Mizuhara is accused of wiring the funds without Mr. Ohtani’s knowledge to an illegal sports gambling operation.

U.S. Attorney E. Martin Estrada stressed on Thursday there was no evidence suggesting Mr. Ohtani, who signed a record $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers this season, was anything but a victim in the case.

The outcome spared Mr. Ohtani, his team, and the league a potential scandal of epic proportions, recalling the controversy stirred 35 years ago when Pete Rose was accused of gambling on baseball games while he played for and managed the Cincinnati Reds. Mr. Rose, banned from baseball for life in 1989, later admitted having bet on baseball and the Reds but insisted he never wagered against his team.

Mr. Ohtani, 29, whose talents as a slugger and a pitcher have earned him comparisons to Babe Ruth, told reporters at a March 25 press conference that he was “shocked” by the situation and had never bet on baseball or knowingly paid a bookmaker.

He said then that he had been unaware of the allegations against his interpreter until they surfaced during the Dodgers’ season-opening series in Seoul, South Korea last month, around the time that the team fired Mr. Mizuhara.

According to the federal affidavit, Mr. Mizuhara began gambling with an illegal sports book in late 2021 and losing substantial sums.

To cover his debts, Mr. Mizuhara impersonated Mr. Ohtani over the phone to “trick and deceive” bank employees into authorizing wire transfers from Mr. Ohtani’s account, where the player’s baseball salary was deposited, the affidavit said.

The investigation grew out of an ongoing, wider probe by the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Homeland Security into illegal sports gambling throughout Southern California and the laundering of those proceeds through casinos in Las Vegas.

By Steve Gorman and Omar Younis

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