Ex-interpreter for baseball star Shohei Ohtani will plead guilty in betting case

The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani has agreed to plead guilty to bank and tax fraud in a sports betting case in which prosecutors allege he stole nearly 17 million dollars (£13.6 million) from the Japanese baseball player to pay off debts, federal prosecutors said.

The scandal surrounding Ippei Mizuhara shocked baseball fans from the US to Japan when the news broke in March.

Mizuhara will plead guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return, the US Justice Department announced.

The bank fraud charge carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, and the false tax return charge carries a sentence of up to three years in federal prison.

The plea agreement says Mizuhara will be required to pay Ohtani restitution that could total nearly 17 million dollars, as well as more than 1 million dollars to the Internal Revenue Service. Those amounts could change prior to sentencing.

Mizuhara will enter his guilty plea in the coming weeks and is set to be arraigned on May 14, prosecutors said.

Dodgers Ohtani Investigation Baseball
Mizuhara standing next to Shohei Ohtani (Richard Vogel/AP, File)

“He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit.”

Mizuhara exploited his personal and professional relationship with Ohtani to plunder millions from the two-way player’s account for years, at times impersonating Ohtani to bankers, prosecutors said.

Mizuhara’s winning bets totalled over 142 million dollars (£113.6 million), which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s.

But his losing bets were around 183 million dollars (£146.4 million), a net loss of nearly 41 million dollars (£32.8 million). He did not wager on baseball.

Mizuhara helped Ohtani open a bank account in 2018 and began stealing money from that account in 2021, according to the plea agreement.

At one point, Mizuhara changed the security protocols, email and phone number associated with it so that calls came directly to him, not Ohtani, when the bank was trying to verify wire transfers.

Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani to the bank about 24 times, according to the agreement.

Mizuhara also admitted to falsifying his 2022 tax returns by underreporting his income by more than 4 million dollars.

Mizuhara’s attorney, Michael G Freedman, did not comment on the deal on Wednesday.

There was no evidence that Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara’s gambling, and the player is co-operating with investigators, authorities said.

The Los Angeles Times and ESPN broke the news of the prosecution in late March, prompting the Dodgers to fire the interpreter and MLB to open its own investigation.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he had no comment on the plea deal on Wednesday, adding: “I just hope it is more closure on the situation.”

MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering on baseball, even legally. MLB also bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Mizuhara has been free on an unsecured 25,000 dollar bond, colloquially known as a signature bond, meaning he did not have to put up any cash or collateral to be freed.

If he violates the bond conditions — which include a requirement to undergo gambling addiction treatment — he will be on the hook for 25,000 dollars.

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