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Shohei Ohtani interpreter gambling scandal explained: Lawyers allege ‘massive theft,’ translator changes story

Shohei Ohtani’s lawyers say the Dodgers superstar has allegedly been the victim of “massive theft,” reportedly accusing his now-former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, of taking funds from Ohtani to use for illegal gambling. ESPN reports that at least $4.5 million in wire transfers were sent from Ohtani’s bank account to a California bookmaker who is under federal investigation. Mizuhara, Ohtani’s longtime interpreter and friend, was fired by the Dodgers on Wednesday. 

Mizuhara spoke with ESPN earlier this week, originally claiming on Tuesday that Ohtani was paying off his gambling debts. He changed his story a day later, however, to say Ohtani was unaware of the payments. Mizuhara — who has been working with Ohtani for more than six years — was in Seoul, South Korea, with Ohtani and the Dodgers as they opened the 2024 MLB regular season against the Padres this week.

Mizuhara claimed to ESPN that he never bet on baseball. Diane Bass, a lawyer for the alleged bookmaker, backed that claim to the Associated Press. Sports betting is not legalized in California, though, and illegal gambling on any sport violates MLB rules.

Mizuhara’s problems mounted on Thursday, as ESPN reported that Ohtani’s representatives have asked law enforcement to investigate the alleged theft. Additionally, the AP has reported that the Internal Revenue Service says Mizuhara and the alleged bookmaker are now being investigated by the agency.

“The Dodgers are aware of media reports and are gathering information,” a spokesperson said in a statement late Wednesday. “The team can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated. The team has no further comment at this time.”

Here’s everything you need to know about the ongoing scandal:

Lawyers’ accusations

The bookmaker, named by the L.A. Times as Mathew Bowyer of Orange County, reportedly surfaced in a federal investigation along with Ohtani’s name. The Times was reportedly investigating the matter and that caused Ohtani’s lawyers to look into the situation and discover the alleged theft by Mizuhara. 

Bowyer’s home was raided by federal agents last year, the Times reported. The same prosecutors have been investigating a large gambling operation in the area, one that has even roped in former Dodgers player Yasiel Puig, though it’s unclear if the two are formally related. 

“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,” a spokesperson for Berk Brettler law firm told CBS Sports in a statement Wednesday.

Bowyer’s lawyer, Bass, told CBS Sports the following: “Mr. Bowyer had no contact with Mr. Ohtani.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles declined to comment when reached by CBS Sports.

Interpreter’s response

Mizuhara, however, originally offered a different explanation in an interview with ESPN, claiming that he had asked Ohtani to cover his gambling debts, which the outlet reported totaled at least $4.5 million.

Mizuhara said that he previously had placed bets via DraftKings and assumed bets placed through Bowyer were legal.

“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.

“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.”

Then, according to ESPN, Mizuhara changed his story Wednesday, claiming instead that Ohtani “had no knowledge of his gambling debts and that Ohtani had not transferred money to the bookmaker’s associate.”

Mizuhara claimed to ESPN that he never gambled on baseball and instead bet on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football. A Dodgers spokesperson told the outlet that Mizuhara met with the team after Wednesday’s game and told players he had a gambling addiction.

California voters rejected two separate propositions in 2022 that would have legalized sports gambling in the state. The first, Proposition 26, would have legalized sports betting at tribal casinos, while Proposition 27 would have legalized online and mobile sports betting. Both were voted down.

With Mizuhara fired, the Dodgers’ manager of performance operations, Will Ireton, is now serving as Ohtani’s temporary interpreter, manager Dave Roberts said. Ireton has been interpreting for teammate Yoshinobu Yamamoto this season and previously worked with Kenta Maeda.

As for the drastic change in Mizuhari’s story, Tisha Thompson of ESPN on Thursday reported the following: 

On Thursday, a source close to Ohtani gave an explanation for the changing storylines: As Ohtani’s handlers tried to determine what had happened, they initially relied solely on Mizuhara, who continued to translate for Ohtani.

Is MLB investigating?

Yes. On March 22, MLB announced an investigation is underway. Here is the league’s statement:

“Major League Baseball has been gathering information since we learned about the allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhari from the news media. Earlier today, our Department of Investigations (DOI) began their formal process investigating the matter.”  

Ohtani has not been placed on administrative leave or the restricted list, and remains an active player. 

Could Ohtani face punishment?

Per MLB policy, no employee is allowed to gamble on baseball (or softball, aka the “diamond sports”). They are permitted to legally gamble on other sports, as Mizuhara claimed he did, but here’s the pertinent rule to this incident: 

Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee who places bets with illegal book makers, or agents for illegal book makers, shall be subject to such penalty as the Commissioner deems appropriate in light of the facts and circumstances of the conduct. Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee who operates or works for an illegal bookmaking business shall be subject to a minimum of a one-year suspension by the Commissioner. For purposes of this provision, an illegal bookmaker is an individual who accepts, places or handles wagers on sporting events from members of the public as part of a gaming operation that is unlawful in the jurisdiction in which the bets are accepted. 

“Ohtani is not currently facing discipline,” an MLB official told The Athletic. MLB is monitoring the situation and plans to gather facts, CBS Sports has learned. The league was not notified about the investigation before the news broke publicly.

Ohtani could also potentially face legal issues, as a California gambling law expert explained to CBS Sports. 

“There are so many potential crimes here, state and federal, and the big dangers with violating the anti-gambling laws is they’re all written to go after organized crime, which means all the organized crime statutes can kick in, like RICO and money laundering,” I. Nelson Rose, an expert on gambling law and co-founder of the California Council on Problem Gambling, said.

What are Ohtani and the Dodgers saying?

The short answer is not much. Ohtani served as the designated hitter for the Dodgers and went 1-for-5 in Thursday’s 15-11 loss to the Padres in Seoul. Ohtani did not take questions before or after the game, and other Dodgers officials, including Roberts and team president Andrew Friedman, did not have much to say.

Who is Ippei Mizuhara?

Mizuhara has worked with Ohtani since he joined the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent in December 2017. For more on Ohtani’s now-former interpreter, here are some details.

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