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Ex-MLB Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara to Plead Guilty to Bank Fraud

For Ippei Mizuhara, who is accused of stealing millions of dollars from Shohei Ohtani to pay gambling debts, an arraignment is set for May 14 in Los Angeles.

Ippei Mizuhara, the longtime former interpreter for MLB superstar Shohei Ohtani, will plead guilty to two federal charges, including bank fraud, linked to his millions of dollars in gambling debts, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Wednesday, May 8.

Mizuhara, 39, is set to hammer out a plea deal and also appear at an arraignment on May 14 at the federal court in Los Angeles, according to published reports.

US Attorney Martin Estrada issued a statement capsulizing the case against Mizuhara, who is accused of stealing $17 million USD (¥2.6 billion JPY) from Ohtani, accessing his bank account to make wire transfers to pay gambling debts to an illegal bookie from November 2021 to March 2024.

"The extent of this defendant's deception and theft is massive," Estrada said in the statement. "He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit. My office is committed to vindicating victims throughout our community and ensuring that wrongdoers face justice."

Ippei Mizuhara Seeks a Reduced Sentence

By agreeing to a plea deal, Mizuhara's criminal case would not go to trial. A reduced prison sentence would be the rationale behind it.

Mizuhara faces 30 years in prison for one count of bank fraud. He also faces three years in prison on one count of falsifying his tax return in 2022. It was widely reported he failed to declare more than $4.1 million (more than ¥639 million) in income for 2022 when his tax return showed $136,865 (¥21.3 billion) in taxable income.

The website for ABC News, one of the major US television networks' news division, reported on the imminent plea deal, detailing the scope and frequency of Mizuhara's alleged fraudulent activities. On Wednesday, May 8, it stated that Mizuhara made more than 40 wire transfers without Ohtani's authorization.

Ippei Mizuhara
Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara and Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani sit in the dugout at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul during MLB's season-opening game on March 20. (KYODO)

Further Details of the Ippei Mizuhara Gambling Scandal

Also on Wednesday, the US Attorney's Office for the Central District of California issued a press release providing a detailed update on the case.

In the document, the US Attorney's Office outlined the serious charges, including the following: "Our joint investigation with Homeland Security Investigations clearly showed Mr Mizuhara not only stole from Mr Ohtani, but also that he lied to the IRS about his income," said Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher, IRS Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office. 

"Mr Mizuhara exploited his relationship with Mr Ohtani to bankroll his own irresponsibility. In cases where we are able to identify them, we make every effort to make things right for victims, and this is one of those cases."

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Ippei Mizuhara Falsely Impersonated the MLB Star to Use His Bank Account for Gambling, the DOJ Alleges

It has been alleged by federal prosecutors that Mizuhara falsely impersonated Ohtani at least 24 times when contacting the bank by telephone. Ohtani's bank account security details, including password and contact number (telephone), were also changed without his knowledge by Mizuhara, according to federal prosecutors.

The former interpreter for the Los Angeles Angels (2018-23) and Dodgers (he moved to Ohtani's new team with him when the two-time American League MVP signed a 10-year, $700 million, or ¥109 billion, deal in December 2023) amassed $142 million (¥22.1 billion) in winnings from illegal sports gambling with a California bookie and $183 million (¥28.5 billion) in losses.

Sports gambling is illegal in California, though it is legal in 38 of 50 US states.

Mizuhara was dismissed from his job on March 20 as allegations of "massive theft" from Ohtani emerged during the Dodgers' season-opening MLB series against the San Diego Padres in Seoul.

After the US Department of Justice charged Mizuhara with bank fraud on April 11, he was released from the federal court in Los Angeles following a court appearance the next day and paying an unsecured $25,000 bond (about ¥3.9 million).

The judge also ordered him to begin receiving gambling addiction treatment.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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