L.A. Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani's ex-interpreter charged with stealing $16M to cover gambling debts

Shohei Ohtani's longtime interpreter Ippei Mizuhara (R) was charged Thursday with bank fraud alleging he stole over $16 million from Ohtani to pay off his gambling debts. The Los Angeles Dodgers fired Mizuhara in March after learning of his sports betting activity, which is illegal in California. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

April 11 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors on Thursday charged the former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani with bank fraud, alleging he stole more than $16 million to pay off gambling debts.

Ippei Mizuhara allegedly stole over $16 million from Ohtani to "finance his voracious appetite for illegal sports betting," U.S. attorney Martin Estrada told news media outlets.

Mizuhara helped Ohtani, who does not speak or understand English, set up a bank account in 2018 and "used that familiarity" to wire unauthorized transfers from Ohtani's account between 2021 and 2024, according to the Justice Department.

Mizuhara allegedly change the settings on the account so Ohtani would not be notified of the transactions.

Estrada said Mizuhara also impersonated Ohtani in phone conversations with bank officials, placed thousands of bets and deposited the winnings in an account that he controlled.

Estrada said Ohtani has cooperated fully with the investigation, and there was "no evidence" that he authorized transfers to bookmakers.

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara in March after the team learned he'd amassed a large gambling debt with Mathew Bowyer, who allegedly ran an illegal gambling book in California.

The MLB prohibits "any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee" from betting on the game or making illegal bets on other sports.

Federal agents raided Bowyer's home in October. He has not been charged with a crime.

Mizuhara initially said Ohtani willingly paid off his gambling debts, but during a news conference in late March, Ohtani said that was a "complete lie."

"I, myself, have never bet on anything or bet for anyone on a sporting event, or asked someone to bet for me, and I've never asked anyone to send money to a bookmaker from my bank account," he said.

At the time, Ohtani said he didn't even know about Mizuhara's gambling "up until a couple days ago."

Mizuhara's relationship with Ohtani stretched back to 2013 when Ohtani played for the Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball League. Mizuhara was an interpreter for that team.

He then followed Ohtani to work with the Dodgers after the pitching and hitting star signed a 10-year, $700-million contract with the Los Angeles team in December.

"Honestly, I don't think shock is the right word," Ohtani said last month. "I've spent the last week in something beyond that, which I can't express in words."