Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter pleads guilty to stealing US$17M from athlete – National

The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani pleaded guilty to bank and tax fraud on Tuesday and admitted to stealing nearly $17 million from the Japanese baseball player to pay off sports betting debts.

Ippei Mizuhara ’s crimes stunned the baseball world, shattering his image as Ohtani’s shadow at ballparks around the U.S. He entered his guilty plea in federal court in Santa Ana, California.

The ex-interpreter had exploited his personal and professional relationship with Ohtani to plunder millions from the two-way player’s account for years, at times impersonating Ohtani to bankers. Mizuhara signed a plea agreement that detailed the allegations on May 5, and prosecutors announced it several days later.

Mizuhara’s attorney declined to comment outside the courthouse. Mizuhara spoke briefly in court acknowledging his guilt. “I worked for victim A and had access to his bank account and had fallen into major gambling debt,” he told the court. “I went ahead and wired money … with his bank account.”

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There was no evidence Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara’s gambling, and the player cooperated with investigators, authorities said.

Click to play video: 'Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara charged with stealing $16M from MLB star'

Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara charged with stealing $16M from MLB star

Martin Estrada, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said after the hearing that Ohtani was particularly vulnerable.

“Mr. Ohtani is an immigrant who came to this country, is not familiar with the ways of this country and therefore was easily prey to someone who was more familiar with our financial systems,” said Estrada, adding that his office has established a Vulnerable Victims Task Force to look at fraud against older adults and immigrant groups.

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Mizuhara faces numerous consequences including possibly being deported to Japan, Estrada said.

Ohtani expressed relief after the hearing and thanked his team, family and the Dodger organization “who showed endless support throughout this process. It’s time to close this chapter, move on and continue to focus on playing and winning ballgames.”

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“Now that the investigation has been completed, this full admission of guilt has brought important closure to me and my family,” Ohtani said. “I want to sincerely thank the authorities for finishing their thorough and effective investigation so quickly and uncovering all of the evidence.”

Mizuhara’s winning bets totaled over $142 million, which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s. But his losing bets were around $183 million, a net loss of nearly $41 million. He did not wager on baseball. Estrada said Mizuhara spent some of the money to cover dental fees.

Mizuhara pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return. The bank fraud charge carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, and the false tax return charge carries a sentence of up to three years in federal prison. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 25.

He also is required to pay Ohtani restitution that could total nearly $17 million, as well as more than $1 million to the IRS. Those amounts, however, could change prior to sentencing.

Click to play video: '‘Saddened and shocked’: Ohtani accuses interpreter of stealing money, lying'

‘Saddened and shocked’: Ohtani accuses interpreter of stealing money, lying

Federal prosecutor Jeff Mitchell told the court Mizuhara was hired as an interpreter for a Major League Baseball player who didn’t speak English, and helped translate between him and his financial advisors, who did not speak Japanese. In 2018, Mizuhara helped the player open a bank account in Phoenix to deposit payroll and received login information for the account, Mitchell said.

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When Mizuhara was unable to pay sports gambling debts, he deceived the bank to get money from the account to pay them off, Mitchell said. He did this by signing into the account online and changing the registered phone number and email for the account so communication would be routed to Mizuhara instead of the player, Mitchell said. On multiple occasions from 2021 to 2024, Mizuhara initiated wire transfers from the account and received a six-digit code from the bank to complete the transactions, Mitchell said.

Mizuhara’s plea deal was negotiated with prosecutors before he was even arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles in mid-May. He was initially charged with one count of bank fraud.

The Los Angeles Times and ESPN broke the news of the prosecution in late March, prompting the Dodgers to fire the interpreter and MLB to open its own investigation.

MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering on baseball, even legally. MLB also bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Mizuhara’s hearing came hours after MLB banned San Diego Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano from baseball for life in the wake of another gambling scandal. MLB said Marcano placed 387 baseball bets totaling more than $150,000 in October 2022 and from last July through November with a legal sportsbook. He became the first active player in a century banned for life because of gambling. Four others were suspended Tuesday.

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Prosecutors declined to comment when asked about Marcano on Tuesday.

Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Jaimie Ding in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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