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Ohtani interpreter stole more than $16 million from baseball star, feds allege

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Federal prosecutors have charged Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter for Shohei Ohtani, with stealing more than $16 million from the Dodgers superstar to pay debts with an alleged illegal bookmaker, as part of a sprawling scheme that stretched over two years and involved illicit wagers of more than 10 times that amount.

The 36-page criminal complaint alleges that Mizuhara arranged wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank account without his knowledge or permission and repeatedly impersonated the ballplayer during phone calls with bank employees, all to feed a worsening gambling habit that accumulated $40 million in losses across thousands of bets.

In language that echoes dialogue from a gangster film in places, the complaint details how Mizuhara allegedly collected some $142 million in winnings but lost about $183 million.

The complaint was unveiled Thursday at a news conference in downtown Los Angeles, where U.S. Atty. for the Central District of California E. Martin Estrada announced that Mizuhara was being charged with bank fraud, which could lead to a sentence of up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted.

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“Our investigation has revealed that due to the position of trust he occupied with Mr. Ohtani, Mr. Mizuhara had unique access to Mr. Ohtani’s finances,” Estrada said. “Mr. Mizuhara used and abused that position of trust in order to plunder Mr. Ohtani’s bank account … to feed his insatiable appetite for illegal sports betting.”

Michael Freedman, an L.A.-based criminal defense attorney, confirmed he represents Mizuhara, but has declined further comment.

The interpreter was expected to surrender to federal authorities Friday.

Shohei Ohtani and his team allege that ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stole from the Dodgers star’s bank account to cover millions in gambling debt. Unanswered is how the interpreter could have pulled it off without anyone noticing.

March 27, 2024

Mizuhara, who graduated from Diamond Bar High School, had worked with Ohtani since the he debuted with the Angels in 2018.

The charge is the latest twist in a fast-moving saga that has transfixed the baseball world since The Times broke the story March 20. The newspaper reported that Ohtani’s name had surfaced in the federal investigation of Mathew Bowyer, an allegedly illegal bookmaker who lives in Orange County. Ohtani’s representatives accused Mizuhara of committing “massive theft” of the ballplayer’s money to place bets with Bowyer’s organization.

“Mr. Ohtani has been established as a victim in this case,” Estrada said. “I want to be clear that Mr. Ohtani has cooperated fully and completely in this investigation. He’s not only spoken to investigators, he’s provided access to his digital devices, to his personal information, to ensure that justice was done.”

Last month, Ohtani denied paying bookmakers, placing bets or asking anyone to do so for him. The complaint backs up his account. Investigators said there wasn’t any mention of gambling or Mizuhara’s debts in Ohtani’s text messages, his browser history didn’t show evidence that he had visited the two websites used by the bookmaking operation and his phone didn’t appear to have been used to access the bank account in question. Additionally, investigators found no discussion in which Ohtani granted Mizuhara access to the account.

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Shohei Ohtani spoke for the first time since his interpreter was accused of stealing the ballplayer’s funds to place bets with an illegal bookmaker.

March 25, 2024

Bowyer, whose San Juan Capistrano home was raided by federal agents in October, has not been charged with a crime.

The filing unveiled a detailed picture of the pivotal role Mizuhara played in Ohtani’s life — including telling Ohtani’s agent that the bank account, where Ohtani’s salary was deposited, was “private” and that he did not want it monitored. Bank records reviewed by investigators showed that the contact information on the account was changed to link it to Mizuhara’s phone number and an email account also was connected to the interpreter.

More than $16 million was sent from the account via wire transfers from November 2021 to January 2024 to accounts controlled by people linked to the bookmaking operation, the complaint says. The bulk of the money — $15 million — was moved from February 2022 to October 2023.

Mizuhara pretended to be Ohtani in calls from his phone to bank employees about the wire transfers, according to the complaint, and used biographical details from Ohtani’s life to pass security challenges. Although Mizuhara speaks fluent English, as he did in the bank phone calls that were recorded, Ohtani does not.

Mizuhara also kept Ohtani’s financial manager, bookkeeper and accountant in the dark about the transfers from the account, the complaint states.

Federal authorities said evidence supports Dodger Shohei Ohtani’s claims he was unaware of alleged illegal gambling by his interpreter and a victim of bank fraud. He can play ball.

April 12, 2024

Mizuhara’s phone was seized by authorities at L.A. International Airport on March 21 after Mizuhara returned from the Dodgers’ season-opening series in Seoul. A trove of text messages investigators retrieved show him repeatedly asking the bookmakers for “bumps,” slang for increasing his credit limit. The complaint says investigators compiled 9,700 pages of text exchanges, including those below.

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“I’m terrible at this sport betting thing huh? Lol,” Mizuhara texted in November 2022. “Any chance u can bump me again?? As you know, you don’t have to worry about me not paying.”

In June 2023, Mizuhara texted a person identified in the complaint as Bookmaker 1 “I have a problem lol … Can I get one last last last bump? This one is for real.”

Bookmaker 1 responded: “Done … I have the same problem. To be honest with you Ippie, as long as you can guarantee the 500 every Monday I’ll give you as much as you want because I know you’re good for it.” The complaint does not name Bowyer.

By November 2023, Bookmaker 1 appeared to become impatient about Mizuhara paying what he owed: “Hey Ippie, it’s 2 o’clock on Friday. I don’t know why you’re not returning my calls. I’m here in Newport Beach and I see [Ohtani] walking his dog. 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? Please call me back immediately.”

In another text, Bookmaker 1 wrote, “I know ur busy but u Need to show some respect. I put my neck out here.”

Mizuhara blamed cryptocurrency losses and taking “a huge hit obviously with the sports too” for the deficit. He said that he had “lost way too much on the site already … of course I know it’s my fault.”

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Investigators did not find evidence that Mizuhara bet on baseball.

“We understood there was a significant amount of public interest in this case,” Estrada said. “There were a lot of question marks out there of what occurred. We wanted to get to those questions. I want to emphasize though that while we were able to work on this case rapidly, it was a very thorough investigation.”

In the wake of federal prosecutors charging Ippei Mizuhara with stealing more than $16 million from Shohei Ohtani, what’s next for the Dodgers’ superstar and MLB?

April 12, 2024

According to the complaint, Mizuhara messaged Bookmaker 1 on March 17 after learning about inquiries by The Times to representatives of Ohtani and Bowyer: “Do you think there is any way to find out the details of the article that’s coming out on LA Times?”

While the Dodgers prepared to start their season against the San Diego Padres in Seoul last month, ESPN later reported, an Ohtani spokesman told the outlet that the money came from Ohtani to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts. ESPN conducted a lengthy interview with Mizuhara on March 19 that was arranged by the spokesman. Mizuhara claimed Ohtani had paid his gambling debts. (The complaint says Mizuhara’s statements weren’t credible.)

The spokesman soon disavowed the account, according to ESPN, and replaced it with the allegation that Mizuhara stole the money.

Near the end of the Dodgers’ season-opening win over the Padres in a game that started at 3 a.m. Pacific time on March 20, a television camera captured Ohtani and Mizuhara laughing in the dugout.

Before the clubhouse opened to the media after the game, several Dodger executives addressed the team along with Mizuhara. According to multiple people with knowledge of the meeting, the interpreter said he had a gambling problem and Ohtani paid off his debts last year.

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As incredible as it might seem that Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter could steal $16 million from him, the Dodgers star is simply a victim, not a gambler.

April 11, 2024

In comments made during a news conference in L.A. several days later, Ohtani described in Japanese what happened after the clubhouse meeting: “We returned to the hotel and Ippei spoke to me for the first time and that’s when I learned he had a huge debt. That’s when he told me he accessed my bank account and made payments to a bookmaker. I thought that was strange, so I called my representatives.”

The West Hollywood law firm representing Ohtani, Berk Brettler, issued the “massive theft” statement” and said, “we are turning the matter over to the authorities.” The Dodgers quickly fired Mizuhara. Major League Baseball announced an investigation two days later. The league said in a statement Thursday that it will wait until the criminal proceeding is resolved “to determine whether further investigation is warranted.”

The day the story became public last month, the complaint says, Mizuhara again messaged Bookmaker 1.

“Have you seen the reports?” the interpreter asked.

“Yes, but that’s all bull—,” Bookmaker 1 responded. “Obviously you didn’t steal from him. I understand it’s a cover job I totally get it.”

“Technically I did steal from him,” Mizuhara said. “It’s all over for me.”

Times staff writer Adam Elmahrek contributed to this report.

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