What to know about the Shohei Ohtani interpreter gambling scandal

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara answer questions during a news conference at Dodger Stadium
Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani, left, and his former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara answer questions during a news conference at Dodger Stadium on Dec. 14.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Shohei Ohtani is considered a victim after federal prosecutors charged his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, with bank fraud for allegedly stealing $16 million from the Dodgers star to pay gambling debts that Mizuhara owed to a reputed Orange County bookmaker.

E. Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, announced the charge against Mizuhara at a news conference Thursday in Los Angeles. According to Estrada, Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani in conversations with bank officials, placed thousands of wagers and deposited winnings in a bank account the interpreter controlled.

“Mr. Mizuhara did all this to feed his insatiable appetite for illegal sports gambling,” Estrada said.

“There’s no indication Mr. Ohtani authorized the $16 million from his account to the bookmakers,” he added.

On Friday, Mizuhara surrendered to federal authorities in Los Angeles. He was scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court in the afternoon.

If convicted, Mizuhara, 39, faces up to 30 years in prison.

Last month, Ohtani’s representatives accused his former right-hand man of engaging in a “massive theft” of Ohtani’s funds, with millions of the player’s dollars allegedly used to pay off Mizuhara’s gambling debts.

Lawyers for Ohtani made that claim after The Times learned that Ohtani’s name had surfaced in a federal investigation into O.C. resident Mathew Bowyer, who is alleged to be an illegal bookmaker.

Ohtani and Bowyer have not been charged with a crime. None of the bets in question is known to have involved baseball games. Ohtani, 29, has not been accused of placing any bets.

In March, Major League Baseball opened an investigation into the Ohtani interpreter gambling scandal.

“Major League Baseball has been gathering information since we learned about the allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhari from the news media,” MLB said then. “Earlier today, our Department of Investigations (DOI) began their formal process investigating the matter.”

Mizuhara had been Ohtani’s personal interpreter since the two-way Japanese player signed with the Angels in late 2017, a professional relationship that continued when Ohtani signed with the Dodgers this past offseason. The two men also appeared to be good friends and nearly constant companions outside of baseball.

In South Korea, TV cameras showed Ohtani and Mizuhara sharing a laugh together in the dugout during the ninth inning of the Dodgers’ season-opening win over the San Diego Padres on March 20. But the story of the gambling scandal broke soon afterward, and Mizuhara was promptly fired by the Dodgers.

Mizuhara’s account of what happened changed from Ohtani agreeing to bail out his interpreter by wiring funds to pay off Mizuhara’s gambling debts to Ohtani having no knowledge of his gambling debts and not transferring money on his behalf.

Five days after Mizuhara was fired, Ohtani, in front of reporters at Dodger Stadium, addressed the situation publicly for the first time. Through his new interpreter, Will Ireton, Ohtani said he “never bet on baseball or any other sports, or have never asked somebody to do on my behalf and I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports.”

Afterward, Ohtani didn’t take any questions from the six dozen media members in attendance.

Japanese media are treating the gambling scandal like a presidential election, with few wanting to believe a national hero could be accused of wrongdoing.

Here’s The Times’ coverage of the still-unfolding scandal: