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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Shohei Ohtani’s Interpreter Stole $16 Million to Cover Gambling Losses, Feds Say

  • Authorities detailed how Ippei Mizuhara hid the bank transfers from Ohtani.
  • An investigation determined Ohtani was a 'victim' and no bets were made on baseball.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Federal authorities have concluded that Shohei Ohtani was purely a “victim” of his longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, who allegedly stole more than $16 million from his onetime friend to pay for increasingly serious gambling losses.

A federal complaint filed Thursday portrays Mizuhara as a degenerate gambler—though one who didn’t bet on baseball—who used increasingly sophisticated tactics to hide his gambling and thieving from Ohtani. A thorough investigation detailed in the complaint found no evidence at all to suggest that Ohtani has gambled on any sport, legally or otherwise, and voluminous evidence that he was deceived by Mizuhara.

In total, authorities say, Mizuhara lost more than $180 million on sports, placing dozens of bets per day over a two-year-plus period. He fell more than $40 million in debt to the illegal bookmaker—not named in the complaint but previously reported to be Mathew Bowyer—and stole more than $16 million from Ohtani while hiding the bank transactions from the baseball player. “I’m terrible at this sport betting thing huh? Lol,” one text from Mizuhara to Bowyer in the complaint reads. The complaint shows Mizuhara repeatedly asking Bowyer for credit and increased betting limits, and even claims he had several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of baseball cards and memorabilia purchased from eBay with Ohtani’s stolen money sent to the ballpark with the intent of flipping the items.

Mizuhara has been charged with felony bank fraud.

Ohtani’s team had initially told reporters that Ohtani had transferred millions to the bookmaker knowingly to cover Mizuhara’s debts before changing its story and blaming Mizuhara’s dissembling for the confusion. The federal investigation appears to support Ohtani’s version of events, with text messages and other forensic data showing Mizuhara admitting to the thefts. 

As reporters circled Bowyer and Mizuhara in 2024, the bookmaker texted the interpreter saying “Obviously you didn’t steal from him.” Mizuhara responded, according to the complaint, “Technically I did steal from him. it’s all over for me.” 

The complaint alleges that Mizuhara started betting with Bowyer in late 2021 and racked up large debts almost immediately. On calls recorded by Ohtani’s bank, Mizuhara allegedly impersonated Ohtani that year to gain access to the player’s accounts.

The federal investigation into Mizuhara produced eye-popping details and allegations, with both Mizuhara and Ohtani apparently turning phones over to authorities for inspection. In texts reproduced in the complaint, Mizuhara appears desperate for any action he can find, at one point texting a bookie about his losses on a UCLA soccer game. He even requested a lower betting limit at one point, saying he’d get “too reckless” with hundreds of thousands of dollars of extra credit. Authorities say Mizuhara ultimately placed more than 19,000 bets between late 2021 and January of this year, averaging more than $12,000 per bet. He won more than $140 million but lost more than $180 million, ultimately owing Bowyer’s operation $40.6 million. Authorities say they obtained Bowyer’s gambling records from a “source” in Bowyer’s operation who is cooperating for a lighter sentence.

As Mizuhara’s gambling losses stacked up, one bookmaker implied that he was following Ohtani around Southern California.

“Hey Ippie, it’s 2 o’clock on Friday,” he wrote in a text that appears in the complaint. (The name is spelled “Ippie’” in the text.) “I don’t know why you’re not returning my calls. I’m here in Newport Beach and I see [Ohtani] walking his dog. I’m just gonna go up and talk to him and ask how I can get in touch with you since you’re not responding? Please call me back immediately.” (Ohtani had just adopted the dog and was weeks away from signing with the Dodgers in free agency.)

Two days later, Mizuhara responded, asking for a portion of his debts to be written off.

“I’m gonna be honest,” he wrote. “I ended up losing a lot of money on crypto the last couple years and I took a huge hit obviously with the sports too.”

The Ohtani account Mizuhara repeatedly stole from was exclusively for his Angels salary, the complaint says, and the thefts began with a $40,010 transfer in November 2021. The bulk of the transfers—more than $15 million—took place in ’22 and ’23, with forensic evidence directly tying Mizuhara to the transfers. Mizuhara initially was rejected from accessing the account when he claimed he was Ohtani trying to wire cash for a car note, and the account was locked, the complaint says. But Mizuhara was able to successfully answer the account’s security questions, unlocking Ohtani’s millions. Accountants and financial advisers employed by Ohtani told federal investigators that Mizuhara told them that the account he was using was supposed to be “private” despite their concerns about Ohtani possibly having tax issues around the account.

Ohtani told federal investigators what he had told the media: The initial confusion around his version of events was due to Mizuhara abusing his power as interpreter, and he was never aware of the transfers Mizuhara was making in his name. He told investigators that he first found out about the alleged theft around the same time that the rest of the world did, after the Dodgers played the Padres in South Korea last month. That’s when Mizuhara admitted stealing from Ohtani and lying to his representatives about the wire transfers, the complaint says.

The feds brought in an agent who could read Japanese to review tens of thousands of text messages between Ohtani and Mizuhara, which contain “no discussion of sports betting,” according to the criminal complaint. Though the investigation stemmed from illegal sports betting, the authorities also requested records from several legal gambling firms and found bets from Mizuhara, and none from Ohtani. A Homeland Security Investigations review of Ohtani’s phone “did not find any evidence to suggest that [Ohtani] was aware of, or involved in, Mizuhara’s illegal gambling activity or payment of those debts.”

This breaking news story has been updated.

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