Shohei Ohtani interpreter scandal explained: Everything we know as prosecutors say Ippei Mizuhara stole $16M

Shohei Ohtani interpreter scandal explained: Everything we know as prosecutors say Ippei Mizuhara stole $16M

Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, has been charged with bank fraud and accused of stealing more than $16 million from the Dodgers superstar to “finance his voracious appetite for illegal sports betting,” prosecutors said on April 11. Mizuhara allegedly siphoned millions from Ohtani’s bank account, to which he had direct access, to fund his sports gambling, which is illegal in California. Between December 2021 and January 2024, Mizuhara allegedly lost more than $40 million across about 19,000 individual bets, according to a criminal complaint filed in April as part of a joint investigation 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.

Mizuhara, who had worked with Ohtani since he signed with the Angels for the 2018 MLB season, was fired a day into the 2024 MLB season after the gambling scandal broke on March 20. MLB has formally launched an investigation and Ohtani has denied that he had placed any bets or had any knowledge of Mizuhara’s gambling. Prosecutors have also said that Ohtani is a victim and was not aware of the gambling or the wire transfers from his bank account.

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 season, 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 said 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 “massive theft.”

“Technically I did steal from him,” Mizuhara allegedly said in a text to the bookmaker uncovered in court documents.

Mizuhara claimed to ESPN that he never bet on baseball and prosecutors in April said the same. Illegal gambling on any sport, however, violates MLB rules.

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

How did the scandal start?

Prosecutors allege that Mizuhara began making bets on sports in 2021, but the scandal did not become public until March 20, 2024. 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 investigating the matter, which 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 on March 20.

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

What was Mizuhara’s side of the story?

Mizuhara originally, in an interview with ESPN, claimed that he had asked Ohtani to cover his gambling debts, which the outlet reported totaled at least $4.5 million. Prosecutors have since alleged the total is more than $16 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: 

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.

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 has Ohtani said?

Ohtani and the Dodgers were initially mum on the subject until the player gave a lengthy statement in Japanese on March 25, 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.”

What do prosecutors allege?

In a 37-page criminal complaint filed in April, prosecutors laid out the story of a gambler racking up debts. Between December 2021 and January 2024, Mizuhara allegedly placed about 19,000 wages, averaging 25 a day. Prosecutors tallied the winnings at about $142 million and losses at about $182 million, good for a net loss of more than $40 million.

According to the criminal complaint, Mizuhara had direct access to Ohtani’s bank account and transferred the money himself. In at least two phone calls to the bank, he allegedly impersonated Ohtani, providing biographical information to secure the transfers.

“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.”

Prosecutors have stressed that Ohtani was a victim and had no knowledge of Mizuhara’s actions.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said at a press conference in April.

The complaint also includes digital messages allegedly between Mizuhara and the bookmaker in which the former jokes about being “terrible at this sport betting thing” and having “a problem.”

If convicted of bank fraud, Mizuhara faces up to 30 years in prison.

Where does MLB’s investigation stand?

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, though it remains ongoing. “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.

After the criminal complaint was revealed, a spokesperson for the league said MLB will “wait until resolution of the criminal proceeding to determine whether further investigation is warranted.”

“We are aware of the charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against Mr. Mizuhara for bank fraud after a thorough federal investigation,” the spokesperson said in a statement on April 11. “According to that investigation, Shohei Ohtani is considered a victim of fraud and there is no evidence that he authorized betting with an illegal bookmaker.  Further, the investigation did not find any betting on baseball by Mr. Mizuhara.”

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. 

With federal investigators describing Ohtani as a victim, however, it currently seems unlikely that he would face any legal punishment.

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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