Ohtani’s Former Interpreter Reportedly Negotiating Plea Deal In Illegal Gambling Case

Written By Dan Holmes on April 12, 2024
Ohtani jersey with Victim A signifies Ohtani's part in federal case against former inerpretor

The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani reportedly will plead guilty to charges of sending money from the ballplayer’s bank account to an illegal gambling operation, according to the New York Times.

The Internal Revenue Service is investigating Ippei Mizuhara, a close friend of Ohtani’s who served as his interpreter when the two-time MVP played for the Angels and signed with the Dodgers, in connection with the alleged theft of $4.5 million he used to pay offshore sportsbooks.

Mizuhara’s problems run deeper than just illegal gambling

The news of a possible plea deal comes after the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles revealed on Thursday that Mizuhara is facing a federal charge of bank fraud for allegedly stealing over $16 million from the Dodgers star, according to CNN.

According to the Times, Mizuhara is seeking to plead guilty to unspecified charges. Ohtani and Mizuhara are also under investigation by Major League Baseball.

Ohtani has denied knowledge of Mizuhara’s betting activity and alleged theft of money from his bank accounts. According to the Times, the interpreter may have changed the account settings and passwords for Ohtani’s accounts to conceal his illegal activity. Accusations also include Mizuhara impersonating Ohtani (referred to as “Victim A” in the report) to get large-scale wire transfers approved to pay for sports bets.

The IRS is also investigating former bookie Mathew Bowyer, an Orange County resident whose home was raided last October by federal authorities in connection with illegal gambling activity. Sports betting in California is illegal, but offshore sportsbooks still operate in the state.

Mizuhara allegedly placed bets with illegal offshore sportsbook

Mizuhara allegedly engaged in illegal offshore betting. Sportsbooks in states with regulated markets have strict rules they must follow, but offshore bookies frequently extend lines of credit and accept large wagers that licensed sportsbooks wouldn’t accept.

Michael Freedman, an attorney representing Mizuhara, told CNN earlier this week that he did “not have any comment at this time” on the investigation into his client or a possible plea bargain.

Could Ohtani face punishment?

On Thursday, April 11, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada of Los Angeles said that Ohtani is “considered a victim in this case.” That status in the federal probe may indicate that he will not face punishment from MLB.

Since the news broke in March that Mizuhara has a gambling problem and allegedly absconded with millions of dollars belonging to Ohtani, the Dodgers and MLB have been hounded by the scandal surrounding baseball’s biggest star. Ohtani signed a record-setting 10-year, $700 million contract with LA last offseason. His addition to one of the most successful teams in the game, and one that commands immense media attention, was supposed to be a boon for baseball.

Instead, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is saddled with a gambling scandal just as some people question the rapid spread of legal sports betting in the United States. Even if Ohtani is not guilty of wrongdoing, the story isn’t good for baseball.

Ohtani insists he had no idea that his friend and interpreter was gambling. Through his representatives, Ohtani has maintained that he was unaware that money was missing from his bank account. Mizuhara was apparently responsible for all communication for Ohtani, so he could have misrepresented things to his client. There’s no evidence indicating Ohtani ever bet on baseball or any other sport.

Could MLB still discipline Ohtani?

Yes, if it’s proven that he knew of Mizuhara’s gambling debts and approved payments from his account. Even if Ohtani did not personally gamble on baseball, using money from his account to do so would violate MLB rules. The league also prohibits betting with illegal sportsbooks, and any wagers Ohtani placed on baseball, if there were any, could be punishable by a lifetime suspension.

Late last month, Manfred told MLB.com that he hoped the league would wrap up its investigation shortly. The commissioner wants a quick, thorough investigation, and hopefully, one that does not reflect badly on the sport.

Since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling that cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting, more than 30 have done so. A few athletes have been reprimanded, fined, or suspended for betting violations, in college sports, the NBA, and NHL, but so far, no significant gambling scandal has hit any of the sports leagues. But anything that involves Ohtani is headline news, as MLB is finding out in this period of investigation and speculation.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a contributor for PlayCA with plenty of experience under his belt. Dan has written three books about sports and previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He also has extensive experience covering the launch of sports betting in other states, including Ohio, Massachusetts and Maryland. Currently, Dan is residing in Michigan with his family.

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