The Story of Shohei Ohtani’s Translator Betraying Him Just Got Darker and Sadder

At the end of March, Shohei Ohtani gave his side of a story that had become a runaway train. A million dollars from the baseball star’s account had wound up in the account of a suspected illegal sports betting operator. Ohtani’s team provided drastically conflicting explanations of how the money had gotten there. The Los Angeles Dodgers fired Ohtani’s interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, while federal law enforcement and Major League Baseball conducted their own investigations.

After all of the initial contradictions from others, Ohtani’s story was simple: Mizuhara, who had a gambling problem, had stolen the money from Ohtani’s account and sent it to the bookie without the player’s knowledge. The story added up. It made more sense than the most conspiratorial interpretations people had arrived at—not just that Ohtani himself had a gambling problem but that the translator had somehow been covering for him. But Ohtani didn’t address these various theories, and there were still a host of reasonable questions about how he’d gotten mixed up in such a mess. The answers, as explained by federal prosecutors Thursday, are very dark. Ohtani is a victim on a scale both more severe and more multifaceted than media reports had indicated. He did nothing wrong other than trust the wrong people—in particular a dear friend who screwed him, and handsomely compensated staffers and Dodgers executives who accelerated a public-relations mess.

The feds say that Mizuhara took not just a million bucks from Ohtani, but $16 million. Not that there’s an especially ethical way to steal $16 million, but the Justice Department accuses Mizuhara of plotting it in a sinister fashion. According to the indictment, Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani and authorized transfers from the player’s account over the phone, as well as diverted notifications and security alerts to his own phone and email address. Mizuhara was in a unique position to gain that access: He was not only Ohtani’s close friend but also his interpreter, the intermediary between the Japanese-speaking Ohtani and his English-speaking bank and financial advisers.

Ohtani believed that his financial team was effectively monitoring his assets. But that became difficult given the translator’s perch as the one guy in the story speaking two languages. According to the federal complaint, Mizuhara shielded details about the account in question from Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, telling Balelo that Ohtani wanted the account to be private and unmonitored by his team. Nobody broke down the language firewall between Ohtani and his money people.

Only Mizuhara was positioned to do that, and he was the guy stealing Ohtani’s money and sending it to an unlicensed bookmaker. Mizuhara had been connected to the account, the destination for Ohtani’s baseball salary, from the beginning: In 2018 the pair had gone together to a bank in Arizona to open it. It wasn’t until the past few weeks that Ohtani learned that Mizuhara had gotten into the account.

In this story, Mizuhara is many things. He’s a gambling addict, for sure. The federal complaint notes that an investigator reviewed Mizuhara’s betting account with the illegal bookie and found 19,000 bets between December 2021 and January 2024—a clip of nearly 25 a day. Mizuhara bet between $10 and $160,000 per wager, averaging $12,800. His net losses were $40.7 million.

The losses might make Mizuhara a tragic figure, hobbled by an addiction. But his response, as alleged by prosecutors, makes him a snake. Ohtani and Mizuhara weren’t just colleagues; they were friends. And Mizuhara didn’t just steal from him. He abused his position as the guy standing between Ohtani and the English-speaking world to do it. Ohtani is famously private, but Mizuhara was as much in his inner circle as anyone could be. He was also the only person who could regularly facilitate communications between Ohtani and an entire country that wanted to learn more about him. Whatever voice Ohtani had in the country where he played baseball, Mizuhara needed to be his bridge. He was the opposite.

Mizuhara did not bet on baseball, according to the records prosecutors reviewed. That saves MLB from what would’ve been a massive headache, even given Ohtani’s lack of involvement with any betting. (In the most perverse way possible, Mizuhara is an advertisement for the virtues of regulated sports betting. He could not have gone into that debt to DraftKings or FanDuel directly, and his name might have raised a flag because of his job.) But that fact doesn’t unwind the past three weeks. An unquantifiable but non-negligible group of sports fans will always think Ohtani was caught up in a gambling operation because millions of dollars went from his account to a gambling operation. Again: There are no nice ways to bilk 16 million bucks from someone who trusts you, but Mizuhara would’ve done better by Ohtani if he had spent the money on gold bars and then used the metals to pay his gambling debts.

There’s no equating the misdeeds of other members of Ohtani’s team with what Mizuhara has done, but there should be plenty of room to point out just how many professionals failed Ohtani as the story came to light. It wasn’t wrong of anybody to rely on Mizuhara’s translations for Ohtani over the past several years, but many people around Ohtani relied on his interpretations long after they should have stopped. Even after the story broke—including Ohtani’s camp telling a reporter that Mizuhara had made the bets and Ohtani had covered his payments—the Dodgers let Mizuhara apologize to the rest of the team. At the same meeting, team president Andrew Friedman explained that Ohtani had made the payments. That wasn’t true; it relied on Mizuhara’s relaying of Ohtani’s words, and Ohtani could not understand him. But the words of a Dodgers executive lent legitimacy to a lie.

Ohtani’s own team also bungled the communications. A crisis communications specialist, apparently hired by his agency, arranged an ESPN interview for Mizuhara during which the translator told the lie about Ohtani’s involvement. This happened after Ohtani’s people had told ESPN that the bets at issue had been Mizuhara’s. Given that by this point Mizuhara was publicly associated with unlicensed betting, it is mind-boggling that Ohtani’s English-speaking staff put a microphone in front of his face so that he could proliferate the lie. Relying on Mizuhara’s translations and recollections for years made sense. Relying on them as the scandal broke containment did not. It was time to find a new translator, and it’s baffling that none of these well-paid people did.

All of this is wildly cruel to Ohtani. The biggest problem is that someone who had his trust broke it in one of the most flagrant ways imaginable—not just stealing from him but putting literal words in his mouth. The other professionals in this story then made matters worse for him. Ohtani earns so much money that even such a massive theft hopefully won’t cause him grave problems. But even a $700 million contract can’t make it feel OK for a person to be let down so comprehensively by so many close to him.