Shohei Ohtani's ex-interpreter pleads guilty in gambling case

Ippei Mizuhara stole nearly $17 million from the Dodgers star, prosecutors said.

June 4, 2024, 3:37 PM

Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter for MLB star Shohei Ohtani, pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges related to stealing nearly $17 million from the Dodgers player in order to cover gambling debts, according to the Department of Justice.

Mizuhara, 39, agreed to plead guilty last month to one count of bank fraud, which carries a maximum of 30 years in prison, and one count of subscribing to a false tax return, which carries up to three years in prison.

The guilty plea was formally entered at a change of plea hearing Tuesday morning, after Mizuhara previously pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment last month as a procedural matter. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 25.

"I had fallen into major gambling debt. The only thing I could think was using his money to help pay for the debt," Mizuhara told the court, according to Los Angeles ABC station KABC.

Ippei Mizuhara, center, the former longtime interpreter for the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball star Shohei Ohtani, leaves federal court following his arraignment, May 14, 2024, in Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes/AP, FILE

According to the plea agreement, Mizuhara helped Ohtani, who does not speak English, set up a bank account in Phoenix in 2018, during which he interpreted the login information for the player's account. In September 2021, Mizuhara started placing sports bets with an illegal bookmaker to whom he quickly became indebted, according to the plea agreement.

"Unable to pay his gambling debts, Mizuhara orchestrated a scheme to deceive and cheat the bank to fraudulently obtain money from the account," the DOJ previously said in a release.

Mizuhara accessed Ohtani's bank account and updated security information so bank employees would contact him, not Ohtani, when attempting to verify wire transfers from the account, according to the plea agreement. He also impersonated Ohtani on 24 occasions in calls to the bank, according to the agreement.

From November 2021 to March 2024, Mizuhara transferred nearly $17 million from the account to associates of the bookmaker in more than 40 wires without Ohtani's permission, according to the plea agreement.

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara arrive to a game against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch on Feb. 27, 2024 in Glendale, Ariz.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images, FILE

Mizuhara also admitted in the plea agreement to falsely claiming that his total taxable income for 2022 was $136,865 when, in fact, he failed to report an additional $4.1 million in income.

"The source of the unreported income was from his scheme to defraud the bank," the DOJ said, noting that he owes approximately $1,149,400 in additional taxes for the tax year 2022, plus additional interest and penalties.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada reiterated Tuesday that Ohtani is a victim in the case and said the player was "harmed substantially" by Mizuhara's actions.

"What we saw was Mr. Mizuhara was the one that, based on his addiction to sports betting, took advantage of his friend, the person who's given him an opportunity, and victimized Mr. Ohtani," Estrada told reporters following Tuesday's hearing, calling the fraud "deep" and "extensive."

Estrada said that sentencing guidelines could call for a lesser sentence, but that based on the "extent" of the criminal conduct, Mizuhara will likely face incarceration. He faces a risk of deportation back to Japan upon completion of the federal sentence, Estrada said.

Ohtani said following the plea hearing Tuesday that the "full admission of guilt has brought important closure to me and my family."

"I want to sincerely thank the authorities for finishing their thorough and effective investigation so quickly and uncovering all of the evidence," he said in a statement. "This has been a uniquely challenging time, so I am especially grateful for my support team -- my family, agent, agency, lawyers, and advisors along with the entire Dodger organization, who showed endless support throughout this process."

The Dodgers announced they had fired the Japanese interpreter on March 20, after the gambling controversy surfaced. The team did not provide a specific reason for Mizuhara's termination.

MLB had also launched an investigation into the matter, which it announced Tuesday has been closed.

"Based on the thoroughness of the federal investigation that was made public, the information MLB collected, and the criminal proceeding being resolved without being contested, MLB considers Shohei Ohtani a victim of fraud and this matter has been closed," MLB said in a statement to ESPN.

Shohei Ohtani #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers steps up to bat during a 4-0 win over the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on June 2, 2024 in Los Angeles.
Harry How/Getty Images

Following Mizuhara's conviction and the conclusion of the MLB's investigation, the Dodgers said they are "pleased that Shohei and the team can put this entire matter behind them and move forward in pursuit of a World Series title."

Mizuhara was charged in the matter in April. Following his initial appearance in federal court on April 12, his attorney, Michael Freedman, said in a statement to ABC News that Mizuhara is "continuing to cooperate with the legal process and is hopeful that he can reach an agreement with the government to resolve this case as quickly as possible so that he can take responsibility."

"He wishes to apologize to Mr. Ohtani, the Dodgers, Major League Baseball, and his family," the statement continued. "As noted in court, he is also eager to seek treatment for his gambling."

Ohtani addressed the scandal for the first time on March 25 during a press conference. In a prepared statement, Ohtani said through an interpreter, "I am very saddened and shocked that someone who I trusted has done this."

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