Baseball star Ohtani’s ex-interpreter to make first court appearance

By Thomson Reuters Apr 12, 2024 | 12:48 PM

By Steve Gorman and Brad Brooks

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The former interpreter for Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani is expected to make his first appearance in federal court on Friday on allegations that he stole $16 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ star.

A 36-page federal criminal complaint and affidavit filed on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles alleges that Ippei Mizuhara engaged in bank fraud by embezzling the money from an account of Ohtani’s that Mizuhara had helped set up.

Prosecutors allege that Mizuhara, 39, sent funds without Ohtani’s knowledge to an illegal sports gambling operation – and made clear the baseball star was not suspected of any wrongdoing.

Mizuhara is not expected to enter a plea during Friday’s expected court appearance at the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, and is expected to be released on bond, with an arraignment date likely to be set in the coming weeks, federal prosecutors say.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney E. Martin Estrada stressed there was nothing to suggest wrongdoing by Ohtani, who signed a record $700 million, 10-year contract to join the Dodgers this season as the league’s highest-paid player.

“I want to emphasize this point. Mr. Ohtani was a victim in this case. There’s no evidence to indicate that Mr. Ohtani authorized the over $16 million in transfers from his account to the bookmakers,” Estrada said.

The outcome spared the Dodgers and Major League Baseball a potential scandal of epic proportions, recalling the controversy stirred 35 years ago when Pete Rose was accused of gambling on baseball games, including those of his own team, while he played for and managed the Cincinnati Reds.

Ohtani, 29, whose talents as a slugger and a pitcher have earned him comparisons to Babe Ruth, told reporters at a March 25 press conference that he was a victim of theft by Mizuhara and that he never bet on baseball or knowingly paid a bookmaker.

If convicted on the single count of bank fraud with which he is charged, Mizuhara could face a sentence of up to 30 years in 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 the federal affidavit.

To cover his debts, Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani over the phone 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.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)