Why feds say Shohei Ohtani is a ‘victim’: Interpreter allegedly paid gambling debts pretending to be Dodger

Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Shohei Ohtani.
Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani “cooperated fully” with an investigation of his former interpreter and was cleared of wrongdoing, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California said.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

When Japanese interpreter Ippei Mizuhara lost bets, he paid a bookmaker with money allegedly stolen from Shohei Ohtani, a staggering total of more than $16 million — nearly four times what previously had been reported.

But when Mizuhara won bets, federal authorities said Thursday, he stashed the cash in an account of his own — evidence that supports Ohtani’s claims he was unaware of the gambling.

Since news broke that Ohtani accused his interpreter and former right-hand man of a massive theft, questions have lingered about whether the Dodgers superstar was aware of or involved in illegal gambling, which could jeopardize his future in baseball and potentially expose him to criminal charges if he were found to have lied to investigators.


At a news conference Thursday, federal law enforcement officials unveiled the findings of their investigation and repeatedly described Ohtani as a victim.

E. Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said the probe cleared Ohtani of wrongdoing. The player “cooperated fully,” Estrada said, and “provided digital devices and personal information.”

In the wake of federal prosecutors charging Ippei Mizuhara with stealing more than $16 million from Shohei Ohtani, what’s next for the Dodgers’ superstar and MLB?

April 12, 2024

He said he expects Ohtani, who is in his first season with the Dodgers after six years with the Angels, to “continue to cooperate fully.”

Mizuhara has been charged with bank fraud, a federal offense that could result in a sentence of up to 30 years in prison if he is convicted. The criminal complaint filed Thursday describes a pattern of deceitful behavior, with Mizuhara repeatedly exploiting the trust he’d built over 10 years as Ohtani’s interpreter and near-constant companion.

Ohtani, meanwhile, is free to continue his assault on National League pitching as the Dodgers designated hitter. He is batting .333 with three home runs and a league-leading eight doubles. He has a seven-game hitting streak and has a hit in 13 of the Dodgers’ 15 games.


Major League Baseball said it would conduct an investigation when the federal probe is complete, although that was walked back a bit Thursday. “Given the information disclosed today, and other information we have already collected, we will wait until resolution of the criminal proceeding to determine whether further investigation is warranted,” the league said in a statement.

Dodgers' Shohei Ohtani gestures on the field before a baseball game against the Twins
Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani gestures on the field before a game against the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in Minneapolis.
(Abbie Parr / Associated Press)

Ohtani expressed dismay over Mizuhara during a news conference March 25 at Dodger Stadium, saying his interpreter “was lying to everyone, including everyone around me.”

I have never bet on anything or bet for anyone on a sporting event, or asked someone to bet for me,” he added, “and I’ve never asked anyone to send money to a bookmaker from my bank account.”

The charge comes after The Times reported on allegations by Dodger Shohei Ohtani that Ippei Mizuhara engaged in ‘massive theft’ from the ballplayer’s bank account.

April 11, 2024

The federal complaint alleges Mizuhara set up the bank account where Ohtani deposited paychecks, refused to allow Ohtani’s agent, accountant or financial advisor to access it, and impersonated Ohtani during phone calls with bank officials while authorizing wire transfers to bookmakers.

Ohtani, 29, has not spoken about the case since his news conference, although he is expected to speak to reporters Friday when the Dodgers open a homestand against the San Diego Padres.


Mizuhara, 39, is set to make his initial federal court appearance Friday afternoon in L.A. He is expected to surrender and be released on bond, according to a Justice Department statement, and will not be asked to enter a plea to the bank fraud charge.

In 2018, according to charging documents, Mizuhara accompanied Ohtani, who didn’t speak English, to a bank branch in Arizona to assist the player in opening the account, serving as translator.

Ohtani’s salary from playing professional baseball was deposited into this account and Mizuhara allegedly told Ohtani’s U.S.-based financial professionals, none of whom spoke Japanese, that Ohtani had denied them access.

Mizuhara began gambling with an illegal sports book in 2021 and soon started losing substantial sums of money, according to an affidavit filed with the charges. During this time, the contact information on Ohtani’s bank account allegedly was changed to link the account to Mizuhara’s phone number and to an anonymous email address connected to Mizuhara.

That’s also when Mizuhara allegedly telephoned the bank and falsely identified himself as Ohtani to trick bank employees into authorizing wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank account to the illegal gambling operation.

The affidavit sums up Mizuhara’s illegal gambling by saying he made “approximately 19,000 wagers between December 2021 and January 2024, and nearly 25 bets per day on average.”


The wagers ranged in value from roughly $10 to $160,000 per bet, court records say, with an average bet amount of roughly $12,800. Off those bets, Mizuhara was said to have won more than $142 million — but lost nearly $183 million, leaving him roughly $40 million in the hole.

Notably, the affidavit says that the records reviewed by federal investigators “do not reflect any bets on baseball games.”

As incredible as it might seem that Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter could steal $16 million from him, the Dodgers star is simply a victim, not a gambler.

April 11, 2024

The charging documents describe messages where Mizhuara’s bookmaker seemed to indicate Ohtani was unaware of his interpreter’s bets. In one instance, from Nov. 2023, the bookmaker was hounding Mizuhara for money and claimed to be watching Ohtani — referred to in the documents as Victim A — walk his dog in Newport Beach.

“I’m just gonna go up and talk to him and ask how I can get in touch with you, since you’re not responding,” the bookmaker told Mizuhara, according to the complaint. “Please call me back immediately.”

In the last few months, Mizuhara also allegedly used the same account to spend approximately $325,000 on 1,000 baseball cards and had them mailed to Mizuhara under an alias, “Jay Min,” to the Dodgers clubhouse.

Ohtani earned about $40 million in six seasons with the Angels before signing a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers four months ago — the largest in baseball history, although most of the money is deferred until after the contract ends. He also earns an estimated $65 million a year in endorsements.


For now, it seems Ohtani is all but exonerated — barring new information that might come up in the prosecution of Mizuhara.