Betrayal Beyond Borders: Shohei Ohtani’s Former Interpreter Embezzles $16M, U.S. DOJ Reports

Former longtime interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani, Ippei Mizuhara, finds himself entangled in a web of federal charges, accused of bank fraud and theft exceeding $16 million from the Japanese sensation, according to U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada's announcement on Thursday.

Mizuhara, who served as Ohtani’s interpreter upon the latter's arrival in the U.S. in 2018, allegedly assumed a role akin to a manager for Ohtani, aiding in the setup of the baseball star's bank accounts. However, Estrada claims Mizuhara exploited this trust, diverting funds for his own sports betting endeavors and deceiving the bank to access Ohtani's accounts.

The U.S. Attorney emphasized Mizuhara's misuse of authority, characterizing it as a calculated effort to drain Ohtani's resources for his own illicit gambling habits. Notably, winnings from bets reportedly failed to find their way back into Ohtani’s accounts, as Mizuhara allegedly fed his "insatiable appetite for illegal sports betting.

Despite the severity of the allegations, Estrada clarified that there's no indication Ohtani was aware of Mizuhara’s actions, stressing Ohtani’s cooperation with investigators and categorizing him as a victim in the ordeal.

Mizuhara is slated to make an initial appearance in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles soon, as confirmed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Meanwhile, Michael G. Freedman, Mizuhara’s attorney, offered no comment following the announcement.

If convicted, Mizuhara could face up to 30 years in prison for the bank fraud charge. The scandal led to Mizuhara's abrupt dismissal by the team last month, triggered by an IRS Criminal Investigation into an alleged illegal bookmaking operation. Major League Baseball has launched a separate inquiry.

Ohtani, meanwhile, has distanced himself from the controversy, attributing full responsibility to Mizuhara, who has provided conflicting accounts regarding whether Ohtani settled his gambling debts.

Shohei Ohtani's departure from the Los Angeles Angels in December made headlines as he secured a groundbreaking $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers. A stark change from his daily routine with the Angels since 2018, Ohtani's association with his longtime interpreter, Mizuhara, came under scrutiny amidst startling revelations.

Before his lucrative Dodgers deal, Ohtani's baseball earnings amounted to roughly $40 million, supplemented by lucrative endorsement deals reaching tens of millions annually. However, Mizuhara's admission to ESPN on March 19 stirred controversy, claiming Ohtani settled his gambling debts upon the interpreter's request, primarily stemming from international soccer, the NBA, NFL, and college football wagers. Yet, Mizuhara's narrative shifted abruptly the next day, denying Ohtani's involvement or financial contributions to bookmakers.

Ohtani himself addressed the matter during a Dodger Stadium press conference on March 25, vehemently denying any involvement in sports betting or knowingly funding his interpreter's gambling habits. Expressing dismay and betrayal, Ohtani revealed his realization of Mizuhara's illicit activities during a team meeting following a victory over the San Diego Padres in Seoul, South Korea.

The swift progression of the investigation, culminating in charges within three weeks of the scandal's emergence, underscores the gravity of the situation. U.S. Attorney Estrada emphasized the thoroughness of the inquiry, acknowledging the significant public interest in the case.

While federal authorities have acted swiftly, the status of Major League Baseball's parallel investigation remains undisclosed. MLB regulations strictly prohibit players and team personnel from engaging in any form of betting, whether on baseball or other sports, whether through legal means or with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

In conclusion, Shohei Ohtani's journey from the Los Angeles Angels to the Dodgers has been overshadowed by the scandal involving his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. The revelation of Mizuhara's alleged embezzlement and gambling debts has rocked the baseball world, tarnishing the trust between player and interpreter. Ohtani's swift denial of any involvement in the illicit activities underscores his commitment to integrity in the sport. As investigations unfold, the baseball community awaits further developments, hoping for clarity and resolution in this troubling chapter of the game's history.