Japanese interpreter charged with stealing  million from MLB star Shohei Ohtani


Japanese interpreter charged with stealing $16 million from MLB star Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani with interpret Ippei Mizuhara during a press conference in December
Shohei Ohtani with interpret Ippei Mizuhara during a press conference in DecemberReuters
Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani's (29) former interpreter has been charged with bank fraud for stealing millions of dollars from the Los Angeles Dodgers player to cover gambling debts, US officials announced at a news conference on Thursday.

Ippei Mizuhara (39) is accused of stealing more than $16 million from an account of Ohtani's that Mizuhara had helped set up, and sending the funds to an illegal sports gambling operation, according to US Attorney E. Martin Estrada.

Ohtani, who signed a record $700 million, 10-year contract to join the Dodgers this season, told reporters at a March 25th press conference that he was a victim of theft by Mizuhara and that he never bet on baseball or knowingly paid a bookmaker.

Federal investigators have not found any evidence suggesting Mizuhara placed bets on baseball games, according to Estrada.

Estrada said the Justice Department considers Ohtani a victim of Mizuhara's alleged fraud and has not accused him of any wrongdoing.

Mizuhara is expected to make his first court appearance in US District Court in downtown Los Angeles in the near future. Bank fraud carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison.

Mizuhara's attorney, Michael Freedman, told Reuters on Thursday that his client had no comment on the charge.

Starting in late 2021, Mizuhara began gambling with an illegal sports book and losing substantial sums, according to an affidavit filed with the fraud charge on Thursday.

Mizuhara repeatedly impersonated Ohtani to "trick and deceive" bank employees into authorizing wire transfers from Ohtani's account, where the player's baseball salary was deposited, the affidavit said.

On or about March 20th, while messaging a bookmaker about reports that Mizuhara had stolen from Ohtani, Mizuhara wrote, "Technically I did steal from him. it's all over for me," according to the affidavit.

Mizuhara "used and abused" his unique position of trust "to plunder Mr. Ohtani's bank account," US Attorney Estrada said at Thursday's press conference.

Mizuhara, who met Ohtani in 2013 when they were both at Japan's Nippon Ham Fighters team and who was his near-constant companion during Ohtani's six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, was fired by the Dodgers in March.

Days later, Ohtani told reporters at the March 25th press conference that Mizuhara had admitted to him that he had been using Ohtani's account to make the payments, and said he was "saddened and shocked" by the betrayal.

Estrada said at Thursday's press conference that a Japanese linguist had reviewed thousands of communications between Ohtani and Mizuhara and had found no discussions between the two about betting or authorizing transfers to bookmakers.

The investigation into Mizuhara grew out of an ongoing, broader probe by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security into illegal sports gambling operations throughout Southern California, Estrada said.


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