Cloud Over Shohei Ohtani Could Clear in Former Interpreter’s Betting Scandal

Federal authorities have found no evidence that the Dodgers star knew Ippei Mizuhara stole some $16 million from his account, according to an affidavit filed Thursday.
Dec 14, 2023; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtan (left) speaks
Dec 14, 2023; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtan (left) speaks / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Somewhere in the two and a half years he allegedly spent lying to, stealing from and impersonating his best friend, Ippei Mizuhara found time to do Shohei Ohtani one favor: Mizuhara so bungled his criminal enterprise that when federal authorities laid it all out on Thursday, it appeared to exonerate Ohtani. 

After the Los Angeles Times and ESPN reported in late March that a federal investigation into an illegal bookmaker had discovered more than $4.5 million in transfers from Ohtani’s bank account to the bookie’s, it was fair to wonder whether Major League Baseball’s biggest star was involved in something nefarious. Mizuhara, Ohtani’s longtime interpreter and friend, initially told ESPN that he had made the bets and the Los Angeles Dodgers DH had begrudgingly covered his debts; later Mizuhara recanted that story and said that in fact he had stolen the cash. Ohtani said in a statement, “Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies.” He added that he himself had never bet on sports or asked anyone to do so on his behalf.

Still, that account left questions, and people around the sport asked them, some in private, some openly. Oakland A’s broadcaster Dallas Braden speculated on Twitter that Mizuhara might be “the fall guy.”

But on Thursday, the United States attorney’s office charged Mizuhara with felony bank fraud. The complaint alleged that he transferred some $16 million out of Ohtani’s account. It accused Mizuhara of changing the phone number and email address associated with it to his own so that Mizuhara would receive alerts about the activity, and of impersonating Ohtani in phone calls with the bank. And most damning of all, it reprinted an encrypted text message from Mizuhara to the bookmaker admitting guilt. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mizuhara intends to plead guilty.

“Have you seen the reports?” Mizuhara allegedly texted the bookie shortly after the L.A. Times and ESPN stories broke. 

“Yes, but that’s all bullshit,” the bookmaker allegedly replied. “Obviously you didn’t steal from him. I understand it’s a cover job I totally get it.” 

Mizuhara allegedly responded, “Technically I did steal from him. it’s all over for me.” 

It may all be over for Ohtani, too. Ohtani has largely seemed stoic in the three weeks since the allegations broke, but his statement did briefly allude to his state of mind: “On a personal note, I’m very sad and shocked that someone who I trusted has done this.” Ohtani has sat for an interview with federal investigators, they said Thursday, and he has had to repeat his story to Dodgers officials. MLB has said it is conducting an investigation. His current and former teammates have been curious about what really happened. He has endured all these questions as he has navigated the betrayal of his best and perhaps only friend, a man who drove him around before Ohtani got his U.S. driver’s license, who picked up groceries when he was recovering from injuries, who spent more time with him than either man did with their families. 

This closeness, as it turns out, is what put Ohtani at risk: No one else in his orbit spoke Japanese, so Ohtani’s agents and financial advisors all communicated with him through Mizuhara, the complaint says, and the interpreter was able to prevent them from looking at the bank account from which he was stealing by insisting that Ohtani wanted to keep it private. No one seems to have double-checked with Ohtani. 

It’s hard to know how long Mizuhara could have kept up with his scheme if authorities had not investigated the bookmaker. The account Mizuhara was using was the one in which Ohtani’s paychecks from the Los Angeles Angels, his employer at the time, were deposited; because Ohtani makes so much in endorsements, the $30 million he made last year seems not to have been of much concern to anyone else. Mizuhara spent part of his life interpreting for Ohtani, and part of it being, as he allegedly texted the bookie, “terrible at this sport betting thing.” In all, according to the complaint, he made total winning bets of $142,256,769.74, and total losing bets of $182,935,206.68, meaning he lost just shy of $41 million. Federal authorities have found no evidence that Ohtani knew about any of it.

If the complaint is accurate, Mizuhara did one thing right: He did not leave much to interpretation.


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Stephanie Apstein

STEPHANIE APSTEIN

Stephanie Apstein is a senior writer covering baseball and Olympic sports for Sports Illustrated, where she started as an intern in 2011. She has covered 10 World Series and two Olympics; and is a frequent contributor to SportsNet New York's Baseball Night in New York. Stephanie has twice won top honors from the Associated Press Sports Editors, and her work has been included in the Best American Sports Writing book series. A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and its New York chapter vice chair,she graduated from Trinity College with a Bachelor of Arts in French and Italian, and from Columbia University with a Master of Science in journalism.