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EDITORIAL | Ohtani Interpreter's Ruin Shows the Evil of Illegal Gambling

Ippei Mizuhara allegedly took over $16 million USD from the personal bank account of baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani to pay his own illegal gambling debts.

Maybe now Shohei Ohtani can finally concentrate on playing baseball for the Los Angeles Dodgers

However, it may be a different story when it comes to the emotional wounds inflicted by Ippei Mizuhara's betrayal. They had previously worked closely together as associates and friends. 

Federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced on April 11 that they had charged Mizuhara, Ohtani's former interpreter, with bank fraud. This is a felony under United States federal law. Mizuhara allegedly illegally transferred over $16 million USD (¥2.45 billion JPY) from Ohtani's personal bank account to pay back his own illegal gambling debts. 

The federal prosecutors emphasized that "Ohtani is the victim in this case." They also announced that Ohtani is considered the victim of fraud and that there is no evidence that he gave his permission for his money to be used for illegal gambling. Ohtani himself is not expected to testify in the case before the Federal District Court. 

Shohei Otani and other members of the Dodgers celebrate a teammate's hit. On the left is interpreter Ippei Mizuhara on March 20, 2024, at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. (© Sankei by Minami Nagao)

How It Happened

The Federal district attorneys explained how Mizuhara made the wire transfers. They noted that Mizuhara even mimicked Ohtani's manner of speaking when he called the bank to change the contact information on the account to himself. 

The size of the fraudulent transfers is in itself shocking. Although sports betting is legal in 38 states in the US, it remains illegal in California. 

Because betting is illegal, there is no limit to the amount of money that can be bet. Therefore, many unwary gamblers have found themselves in over their heads. One result is that debts at virtual currency online casinos have snowballed. 

Classic Manipulation

The back-and-forth messages between the illegal bookie and Mizuhara are quite vivid. Even as Mizuhara ran up his debt and complained about being financially strapped, the bookie continued raising the ceiling for how much he could wager. 

In his Dodgers uniform, Shohei Otani answers questions from the media on February 8 in Arizona. His former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara is on the right. (© Sankei by Kento Kura)

When Mizuhara was fired from his job as an interpreter with the Dodgers on March 20 — during Major League Baseball's season-opening series between the Dodgers and San Diego Padres in Seoul — he told his fellow workers, "I'm a gambling addict." The huge size of his bets and the illegal avenue he took to make them, which both defy common sense, show exactly how true that was. 

When it reached the point where the bookie could not reach Mizuhara, he sent a message. It read: "Ohtani is walking his dog on the beach right now. Should I go and have a little chat with him?" 

It's just a shoe!

The Bookie's Unscrupulous Strategy

The bookie well knew that Mizuhara was most afraid of Ohtani learning what he had been up to. In other words, the bookie was clearly threatening him. 

It is a tried-and-true strategy among the unscrupulous. Make the debtor pay as much as you can get out of him and then blackmail him by implicating him in fraud. Once things have reached that point, detection is only a matter of time. 

As Mizuhara told the bookie, "I stole from him (Ohtani), so I'm finished." 

The bookie first lured Mizuhara into gambling through poker. He has admitted that he chose Mizuhara as a target "because he is a close friend of Ohtani."

There is an old adage which means that danger approaches the virtuous man through the back door. 

Anyone can find himself or herself stuck in a quagmire. We should all learn from this sordid affair just how scary illegal gambling can become. 

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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun

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