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Feds allege Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter stole $16M: Court docs show Ippei Mizuhara’s texts, gambling habits

Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani’s former translator embroiled in a gambling scandal presently gripping Major League Baseball, has been charged with bank fraud for allegedly stealing more than $16 million from the Dodgers superstar, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California announced during a press conference Thursday.

“Mr. Mizuhara stole this money largely to finance his voracious appetite for illegal sports betting,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said Thursday.

The investigation, co-led by the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal division, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, determined that Mizuhara, who had worked with Ohtani since he signed with the Angels ahead of the 2018 season, had direct access to Ohtani’s bank account and used that access to illicitly funnel millions of dollars to an illegal bookmaker in California, where sports betting is banned, according to prosecutors.

“Technically I did steal from him,” Mizuhara allegedly wrote in a message to his bookmaker after news of the scandal broke in late March, according to the criminal complaint. “It’s all over for me.”

Ohtani is considered a victim in this case, prosecutors said repeatedly. During the press conference, Estrada noted that Ohtani has “cooperated fully and completely” with the investigation, including access to his digital devices. Communications between Mizuhara and Ohtani “demonstrated no discussion of betting, wagers or authorization of transfers to bookmakers,” Estrada said Thursday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has obtained recordings of telephone calls in which Mizuhara allegedly spoke to bank employees and falsely claimed to be Ohtani, including providing biographical information, in order to ensure the bank would approve the wire transfers. Estrada also alleged that Mizuhara denied anyone else access to Ohtani’s bank account, including his agent, accountant and financial advisor.

In one call in February 2022, Mizuhara falsely identified himself as Ohtani on a phone call with a bank employee and “falsely stated that he was attempting to wire funds…for a car loan,” according to the criminal complaint. Instead, the bank froze the account, although Mizuhara was allegedly able to get it unfrozen with a call to another bank employee during which he again reportedly impersonated Ohtani.

“Mizuhara admitted to the bookmaker to stealing from Mr. Ohtani,” Estrada said. “Mr. Mizuhara used and abused that position of trust to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani … to plunder Mr. Ohtani’s account to the tune of $16 million” and to “feed his insatiable appetite for illegal sports betting.”

While the money from Ohtani’s account was used to cover losses, Estrada said, any of Mizuhara’s winnings were deposited directly into the former interpreter’s personal account.

“The criminal complaint definitively shows that the $16 million was in fact stolen,” IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher said.

The criminal complaint includes dozens of messages allegedly sent between Mizuhara and the bookmaker:

  • “I’m terrible at this sport betting thing huh? Lol . . . Any chance u can bump me again?? As you know, you don’t have to worry about me not paying!!” Mizuhara allegedly wrote on or about Nov. 14, 2022.
  • “I have a problem lol” Mizuhara allegedly wrote on or about June 24, 2023.
  • “I’m gonna be honest, I ended up losing a lot of money on crypto the last couple years and I took a huge hit obviously with the sports too…Just wanted to ask, is there any way we can settle on an amount? I’ve lost way too much on the site already…of course I know it’s my fault,” Mizuhara allegedly wrote on or about Nov. 19, 2023.

In November, apparently unable to get in touch with Mizuhara, the bookmaker allegedly messaged that he was watching Ohtani walk his dog in Newport Beach. “I’m just gonna go up and talk to him and ask how I can get in touch with you since you’re not responding?” the bookmaker wrote, according to the criminal complaint. “Please call me back immediately.”

In early January, the bookmaker allegedly told Mizuhara he was “putting me in a position where this is going to get out of control,” according to the criminal complaint. “If I don’t hear from you by the end of the day today it’s gonna [sic] be out of my hands.”

Between December 2021 and January 2024, Mizuhara allegedly placed about 19,000 wages, averaging 25 a day. Those bets came to a net loss of more than $40 million, according to the criminal complaint.

Mizuhara faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison if convicted of bank fraud. He is expected to appear in court in the next several days.

Both Estrada and Hatcher said they expected Ohtani will continue cooperating with the investigation. 

The attorney representing Ohtani and the attorney representing Mizuhara both declined to comment when reached by CBS Sports Wednesday, when the New York Times reported that Mizuhara was negotiating a guilty plea. Prosecutors would not confirm any such negotiations Thursday. 

Last month, the Los Angeles Dodgers, who signed Ohtani to a record $700 million free-agent contract this past offseason, fired Mizuhara as Ohtani’s interpreter while the team was in South Korea for their season-opening series against the Padres. The move came after Mizuhara was alleged to have illegally gambled on sports with a California bookmaker who is the subject of a larger investigation

Mizuhara first claimed in an interview with ESPN that Ohtani agreed to pay off his gambling debts. However, the interpreter and close friend to Ohtani later changed course and said Ohtani had no knowledge of the situation and did not make transfers to the bookmaker. The Times reported Wednesday that at some point, Mizuhara also told Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, that the player was covering the debts of an unidentified teammate. Ohtani’s lawyers during this time claimed that their client had been the victim of “massive theft.” The bookmaker, through his lawyer, has claimed he never met or had contact of any kind with Ohtani. 

Ohtani claimed publicly that he has never bet on baseball or any other sports and that Mizuhara stole from his bank account. 

“I do want to make it clear I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker,” Ohtani said in a translation by Dodgers interpreter Will Ireton in late March. “To summarize how I’m feeling right now, I’m beyond shocked. It’s hard to verbalize how I’m feeling at this point.”

Estrada confirmed that Thursday, saying prosecutors “do not believe any bets were made on baseball games.”

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