Shohei Ohtani gambling scandal explained: Everything we know as interpreter reportedly negotiating guilty plea

Shohei Ohtani gambling scandal explained: Everything we know as interpreter reportedly negotiating guilty plea

Shohei Ohtani’s lawyers say the Dodgers superstar has allegedly been the victim of “massive theft,” 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 a day into the 2024 season. MLB has formally launched an investigation into the allegations surrounding Ohtani and Mizuhara and Ohtani has denied that he had placed any bets or had any knowledge of Mizuhara’s gambling.

Mizuhara spoke with ESPN in late March, originally claiming that Ohtani was paying off his gambling debts. He changed his story a day later, however, to say Ohtani was unaware of the payments. The reversal from Mizuhara, who was in in Seoul, South Korea with Ohtani and the Dodgers as they opened the 2024 MLB regular season this week, came after he addressed the Dodgers following their season-opening win against the Padres. 

Per ESPN, Mizuhara apologized to the team about the news and said he has a gambling addiction. The Dodgers were told Ohtani had covered his debts. But Ohtani’s camp says this clubhouse meeting was the first time Ohtani learned there was money missing from his bank account. Hours later, Mizuhara changed his story to ESPN, the Dodgers fired him and Ohtani’s lawyers issued a statement saying Ohtani was a victim of theft.

Mizuhara — who had worked closely with Ohtani since he came to MLB in the 2018 season — 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 legal in California, though, and illegal gambling on any sport violates MLB rules.

In early April, the New York Times reported that Mizuhara is in negotiations to plead guilty to federal charges related to the alleged theft. The investigation is reportedly being co-led by the Internal Revenue Service’s criminal division, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

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, 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 that he never gambled on baseball and instead bet on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football. 

As for the drastic change in Mizuhari’s story, Tisha Thompson of ESPN 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.

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. Ireton has been interpreting for teammate Yoshinobu Yamamoto this season and previously worked with Kenta Maeda.

What are Ohtani and the Dodgers saying?

Ohtani and the Dodgers were initially mum on the subject until the player gave a lengthy statement in Japanese, denying that he had placed any bets himself, asked anyone to place bets for him or worked with a bookmaker. 

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies,” Ohtani said through his interpreter, Will Ireton. “The first time I knew about Ippei’s gambling was after the first game when we had the team meeting in the clubhouse.”

Ohtani said repeatedly that Mizuhara had lied to both his representatives and the media when the interpreter said Ohtani had agreed to pay off his debts. He also claimed Mizuhara admitted to him that he had wired the money from Ohtani’s account.

“To summarize how I’m feeling right now, I’m beyond shocked. It’s really hard to verbalize how I’m feeling at this point,” Ohtani said through Ireton’s translation. “The season’s going to start and I’m going to obviously let my lawyers handle matters from here out. I am completely assisting in all investigations taking place right now.”

Dodgers team executives have not had much to say so far. Manager Dave Roberts said the day before Ohtani’s press conference that it would be “good” for Ohtani to speak to the media and said the scandal would not be a distraction to the team. Team president Andrew Friedman told The Athletic that “there’s nothing to say. Literally nothing to say.”

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.”  

Commissioner Rob Manfred said on March 28 that he hopes it will be a “short” investigation. “We never have the kind of authority that law enforcement people have,  but we manage to get these investigations done and find the facts and I’m sure we will on this one. I hope (it’s) short, but I just don’t know,” Manfred said on MLB Network.

Ohtani has not been placed on administrative leave or the restricted list, and he 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. 

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.

Who is Ippei Mizuhara?

Mizuhara had 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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