Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter charged with bank fraud, allegedly stole $16M from MLB star

(KTLA) — Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani, allegedly stole more than $16 million from the MLB player while working as his interpreter and “de facto manager,” federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Authorities simultaneously cleared last year’s American League MVP from any wrongdoing in the recent sports betting scandal.

In a news conference Thursday morning, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said Mizuhara, who was fired by the Dodgers last month shortly before the story broke, impersonated Ohtani in phone calls with his bank and authorized transactions.

Mizuhara allegedly helped Ohtani set up a bank account shortly after he moved from Japan in 2018 to play for the Los Angeles Angels. Mizuhara had access to the account, Estrada said, and refused to share access with other associates of Ohtani, including his agent, accountant and financial advisor.

Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani, right, and his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, leave after at a news conference ahead of a baseball workout at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 16, 2024. Ohtani’s interpreter and close friend has been fired by the Dodgers following allegations of illegal gambling and theft from the Japanese baseball star. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

In 2021, Mizuhara began placing illegal bets with a group of sports bookmakers, Estrada alleged. Over time, he said the bets became larger and more frequent, with thousands of bets made in total.

Estrada explained Thursday that contacts between Mizuhara and the bookmaker showed the ex-interpreter lost “considerable money” but continued to make wagers. It doesn’t appear that any bets on baseball were made, investigators determined.

Mizuhara used Ohtani’s bank account to make payments to the bookmaker, prosecutors allege. The total amount stolen from the account is more than $16 million.

“Due to the position of trust he occupied with Mr. Ohtani” Mizuhara was able to “use and abuse” that trust “in order to plunder Mr. Ohtani’s bank account,” Estrada said, also confirming that when Ippei would win on sports bets, he did not deposit the money into Ohtani’s account.

Estrada said prosecutors obtained recordings in which Mizuhara spoke to bank employees over the phone pretending to be Ohtani. In these phone calls, he gave personal information and persuaded employees to approve large transfers of money.

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“Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case,” Estrada added. “There is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Ohtani authorized the over $16 million of transfers to his account to the bookmakers.”

Mizuhara is expected to appear in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles for his initial appearance in the near future, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release.

The maximum penalty for the bank fraud charge Mizuhara faces is 30 years in prison.

Mizuhara told ESPN on March 19 that Ohtani paid his gambling debts at the interpreter’s request, saying the bets were on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football. But ESPN said Mizuhara changed his story the next day, saying Ohtani had no knowledge of the gambling debts and had not transferred any money to bookmakers.

On March 25, Ohtani told a Dodger Stadium press conference that he never bet on sports or knowingly paid any gambling debts accumulated by his interpreter.

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies,” Ohtani said. “I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker.”

Ohtani said he first became aware of Mizuhara’s gambling problem during a team meeting after a season-opening victory over the San Diego Padres in Seoul, South Korea.

“I am very saddened and shocked someone whom I trusted has done this,” the Japanese star said through a new interpreter.

There has been no information about the status of baseball’s separate investigation. MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering — even legally — on baseball. They also ban betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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