Mizuhara Guilty Plea Could Clear Ohtani in Sports Betting Scandal

Mizuhara Guilty Plea Could Clear Ohtani in Sports Betting Scandal

From the start of the sports betting controversy, Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani’s explanation that his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, wired millions of dollars to place sports bets via Ohtani’s bank account without Ohtani’s knowledge has invited skepticism. 

How could someone—especially someone like Ohtani who is surrounded by business managers, agents and accountants who presumably monitor his finances—not know of unauthorized banking transactions? And why would the bank not confirm those transfers with Ohtani?

It has all seemed a little hard to believe. Some have wondered if Ohtani—who insists he doesn’t gamble—authorized the transfers and is using Mizuhara as a scapegoat or fall guy.

A new development on Wednesday could change the trajectory of the controversy. 

According to the The New York Times, Mizuhara is negotiating with federal authorities to plead guilty to federal crimes related to the wire transactions. The crimes are not identified, but as Sportico previously reported, potential crimes include wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and, if other persons were involved in the theft, conspiracy. Mizuhara could theoretically face decades in prison, though by pleading guilty and taking responsibility, he would likely receive a much-reduced sentence.

One obvious question is why Ohtani, his advisors and the bank wouldn’t have noticed at least $4.5 million in stolen funds over multiple transactions. The Times says authorities believe Mizuhara disabled alerts on the bank account, so Ohtani “would not receive alerts and confirmations about transactions.” 

For prosecutors to accept a guilty plea from Mizuhara, they would need to be convinced his account is truthful and that he is not taking a fall for others. Mizuhara would need to supply testimony and turn over all evidence, including relevant texts, emails and social media messages as well as dates when he allegedly wired the money. Prosecutors would likely confirm with banking officials that data, including IP addresses, match Mizuhara’s retellings and ask those officials how their systems failed to detect Mizuhara’s illicit activities. Discrepancies between what Mizuhara says and what evidence verifies would make prosecutors less likely to accept a plea deal. 

Mizuhara could also have to agree to testify against others, including those in California who took the bets in a state where sports betting is illegal. ESPN has reported that Mizuhara has possible connections to California bookmaker Matthew Bowyer and his betting operation, which is under investigation.

Even if Mizuhara avoids a trial by pleading guilty, Ohtani could still become a witness—and potentially have to testify—if Mizuhara’s associates are prosecuted and Mizuhara is a government witness.   

Still, Mizuhara pleading guilty and admitting that he stole from Ohtani would serve as a major break for a player who signed a record-breaking $700 million contract in the offseason. It would support Ohtani’s account that he is a victim and has not broken any laws or MLB rules.

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