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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Shohei Ohtani’s Accounts Paid Millions to Illegal Gambling Operation

  • Ohtani’s spokesperson initially told ESPN he made the payments to cover his interpreter’s debts.
  • Now the Dodgers star’s camp says he is the victim of a ‘massive theft’ by the now fired interpreter.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A bank account owned by Shohei Ohtani wired millions of dollars to an illegal gambling operation last year. That is not in dispute. But after blockbuster reports from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN on Wednesday night, nearly everything else about the story is. 

Reporters for the outlets discovered the payments while looking into a federal investigation of Wayne Nix’s illegal gambling ring in California. (Sports betting is legal in most of the United States but not California.) ESPN described two $500,000 wire transfers made last fall with Ohtani’s name on them and reported his accounts made $4.5 million in total payments “to a bookmaking operation.”

Initially, Ohtani’s camp told reporters those payments were made to cover millions of dollars in gambling debts run up by his interpreter and close friend Ippei Mizuhara. ESPN’s Tisha Thompson interviewed Mizuhara on Tuesday night. Ohtani “would help me out to make sure I never do this again,” Mizuhara told ESPN. “He decided to pay it off for me.” The Mizuhara interview was set up by Ohtani’s camp, Thompson wrote. According to Thompson, Mizuhara explained his debts and Ohtani’s paying of them “in great detail” Tuesday.

Then, on Wednesday, the Ohtani camp completely changed its tune. A statement from Ohtani’s lawyers claimed Mizuhara stole the money and that Ohtani had no idea.

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft, and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” the law firm Berk Brettler said in a statement.

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara on Wednesday. Curiously, hours before the story broke, Ohtani and Mizuhara were seen chatting in the dugout during the Dodgers’ season-opening game in Seoul, South Korea. (Ohtani played again Thursday, going 1-for-3 with a single and sacrifice fly as of press time.)

Hours after Mizuhara told ESPN that Ohtani had bailed him out, he recanted, saying Ohtani was not aware of his debts and hadn’t made the payments.

The story raises obvious questions. Mizuhara addressed one of them, telling ESPN that “I never bet on baseball.” 

In the Tuesday ESPN interview, Mizuhara described Ohtani personally making the payments—to Matt Bowyer, the bookie to whom Mizuhara says he owed millions—because he worried about what Mizuhara would do with the money. “He didn’t want me to gamble it away,” Mizuhara said.

Mizuhara was also set to be the translator for new Dodgers pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who made his MLB debut Thursday.

The Ohtani revelation may not be the last from this federal investigation.

When the Justice Department announced charges against Nix in March 2022, it said Nix had been paid “for gambling losses from a professional football player, a Major League Baseball coach and a baseball analyst.” Bowyer, the alleged bookmaker who received millions from Ohtani, has not been charged with a crime. Early last year, former Dodger Yasiel Puig was charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements as part of the investigation into the gambling ring.

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