Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter agrees to plead guilty to stealing $17 million

FILE - Ippei Mizuhara stands next to Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani and translates during an interview at Dodger Stadium on Feb. 3, 2024. The firing of Ohtani's interpreter by the Los Angeles Dodgers over allegations of illegal gambling has highlighted an issue many outside of California don't realize: Sports betting is still against the law in the nation's most populous state. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Ippei Mizuhara, left, stands next to Shohei Ohtani and translates during an interview at Dodger Stadium on Feb. 3, 2024. (Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter for Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani, has agreed to plead guilty in federal court to stealing millions of dollars from Ohtani to cover gambling debts, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The 39-year-old Japanese-language interpreter has reached a plea deal for one count each of bank fraud and signing a false tax return, the Justice Department said. Mizuhara faces up to 33 years in federal prison for the two crimes, which authorities allege he committed as part of a scheme to surreptitiously steal more than $17 million from Ohtani to pay off an Orange County bookmaker.

The blockbuster March revelation that the Dodgers had fired Mizuhara amid an investigation into claims he had stolen Ohtani’s money and gambled on sports shocked the sports world. Last month, federal authorities cleared Ohtani of wrongdoing, quieting widespread speculation about the potential fallout of the scandal for his baseball career and potential criminal charges.

Mizuhara has not yet formally entered a plea, according to Ciaran McEvoy, a spokesman for the DOJ. McEvoy said Wednesday he expects Mizuhara to “plead guilty in the coming weeks.”

“The extent of this defendant’s deception and theft is massive,” U.S. Atty. Martin Estrada said in a news release. “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.”

Mizuhara, a Newport Beach resident, served as a go-between between Ohtani and his non-Japanese-speaking agents and financial advisors, according to the plea agreement released Thursday.

Documents filed with the agreement say Mizuhara obtained the login details for Ohtani's bank account in 2018, when he translated for the baseball phenom as he set up an account at a bank branch in Phoenix. Mizuhara started making illegal bets with the Orange County bookie in September 2021, quickly going deeply into debt, according to the court records.

"Shortly thereafter, Mizuhara began to lose bets and quickly became indebted to the bookmaker. Unable to pay his gambling debts, Mizuhara orchestrated a scheme to deceive and cheat the bank to fraudulently obtain money from the account," according to the news release.

Without telling Ohtani, prosecutors said, Mizuhara proceeded to change the email address and phone number on file for Ohtani's bank account, which meant bank employees would contact Mizuhara about wire transfers from the account. He allegedly impersonated Ohtani about two dozen times.

The interpreter made a number of sizable wire transfers, prosecutors said, including one for $500,000 to an associate of the bookmaker. The scheme continued through this year; prosecutors said that Mizuhara used Ohtani's money to purchase about $325,000 worth of baseball cards between January and March, hoping to later sell them for profit.

In his plea agreement, Mizuhara admitted that he also tried to fool the IRS, filing a false income tax return for 2022 in which he claimed that he only netted around $137,000 of taxable income that year — a fraction of his actual earnings.

"[H]e knowingly failed to report additional income of $4.1 million," the release stated. "The source of the unreported income was from his scheme to defraud the bank."

In September 2023, prosecutors said, Mizuhara even stole from Ohtani after the player agreed to pay for costly dental work.

Mizuhara needed $60,000 worth of work done on his teeth, prosecutors said, and Ohtani approved payment for the procedure from a business account. But rather than use the allotted funds, Mizhuara deposited the money in his personal bank account and paid his dentist from the Ohtani account he secretly controlled.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.