Ex-interpreter for baseball star Shohei Ohtani to plead guilty in betting case

The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani has agreed to plead guilty to bank and tax fraud in a sports betting case where prosecutors allege he stole 16 million dollars (£12.8 million) from the Japanese baseball player to pay off debts, federal prosecutors said.

The scandal surrounding Ippei Mizuhara shocked baseball fans from the US to Japan when the news broke in March.

Mizuhara will plead guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return, the US Justice Department announced.

The plea agreement says Mizuhara will be required to pay Ohtani restitution that could total nearly 17 million dollars (£13.6 million), as well as more than one million dollars (£800,360) to the IRS.

Those amounts could change prior to sentencing.

Mizuhara will enter his guilty plea in the coming weeks and is set to be arraigned on May 14, prosecutors said.

“The extent of this defendant’s deception and theft is massive,” United States attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement.

“He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit.”

Mizuhara 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, prosecutors said.

Mizuhara’s winning bets totalled more than 142 million dollars (£113.6 million), which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s.

Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stands next to Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani and translates during an interview at Dodger Stadium on February 3 in Los Angeles
Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara stands next to Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani and translates during an interview at Dodger Stadium on February 3 in Los Angeles (Richard Vogel/AP)

He did not wager on baseball.

Mizuhara helped Ohtani open a bank account in 2018 and began stealing money from that account in 2021, according to the plea agreement.

At one point, Mizuhara changed the security protocols, email and phone number associated with it so that calls came directly to him, not Ohtani, when the back was trying to verify wire transfers.

Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani to the bank about 24 times, according to the agreement.

Mizuhara also admitted to falsifying his 2022 tax returns by underreporting his income by more than four million dollars (£3.2 million).

There was no evidence that Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara’s gambling, and the player is co-operating with investigators, authorities said.

Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani
Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani (Ashley Landis/AP)

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 has been free on an unsecured 25,000 dollar (£20,000) bail, colloquially known as a signature bond, meaning he did not have to put up any cash or collateral to be freed.

If he violates the bail conditions – which include a requirement to undergo gambling addiction treatment – he will be on the hook for 25,000 dollars.

Ohtani has sought to focus on the field as the case winds through the courts.

Hours after his ex-interpreter first appeared in court in April, he hit his 175th home run in MLB, tying Hideki Matsui for the most by a Japan-born player, during the Dodgers’ 8-7 loss to the San Diego Padres in 11 innings.

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