Ohtani’s ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara to plead guilty to bank, tax fraud

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Ippei Mizuhara agreed Wednesday to plead guilty to federal charges of felony bank fraud and submitting a false tax return after authorities found that he stole nearly $17 million from Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani in order to pay off gambling debts to an illegal sportsbook.

Mizuhara, 39, who had been Ohtani’s longtime interpreter, is expected to enter his guilty plea in the coming weeks. His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

A sentencing date has not been set. The total maximum sentence Mizuhara could receive for both crimes would be 33 years imprisonment and fines of $1.25 million, but in exchange for his plea — outlined in the agreement released Wednesday — prosecutors would recommend a reduced sentence.

The plea agreement says Mizuhara will be required to pay full restitution, or $16,975,010, to Ohtani.

Mizuhara’s attorney declined to comment. A spokesperson for Ohtani declined to comment, as did the Dodgers.

Federal authorities filed the complaint against Mizuhara on April 11, just three weeks after an ESPN investigation detailing wire transfers of $500,000 from Ohtani’s bank account to the bookmaking operation. Mizuhara initially told ESPN that Ohtani had sent the money to help him pay his debts but later changed his story to say Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling or the wire transfers. Ohtani’s attorneys alleged the slugger had been the victim of a “massive theft.”

“The extent of this defendant’s deception and theft is massive,” United States Attorney 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.”

Also in the statement, IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher said, “Mr. Mizuhara exploited his relationship with Mr. Ohtani to bankroll his own irresponsibility.”

The documents filed Wednesday further detailed a relationship of trust in which Ohtani, who does not speak English, relied on his Japanese interpreter to help him with everything from answering questions at news conferences and transacting with financial advisers and sports agents to opening bank accounts.

Mizuhara began placing bets with an illegal bookmaker in September 2021, and as his losses quickly mounted, he began to exploit his access to Ohtani’s financial accounts to pay off his debts.

The agreement detailed Mizuhara’s transfers of Ohtani’s money to the bookmaker’s associates as one $40,010 transfer in November 2021, one $300,000 transfer in February 2022, 36 transfers totaling $15 million from February 2022 to October 2023, and three transfers totaling $1.25 million from December 2023 through January 2024.

Mizuhara took many steps to deceive Ohtani, including changing contact information on the baseball player’s bank accounts so communication would come to Mizuhara. He even impersonated Ohtani on the phone with calls to the bank, which he did at least 24 times, according to the plea agreement.

In one such attempt, on Feb. 2, 2022, Mizuhara called a representative of a bank — referred to as Bank A — for help getting a wire transfer for what Mizuhara said was a “car loan” and verified the transaction with a six-digit code sent via text message, which went to Mizuhara’s phone as he had already changed the information on the account.

In September 2023, Mizuhara told Ohtani he needed $60,000 for dental work, which Ohtani arranged to give him via a check drawn from a business account. However, Mizuhara pocketed that money and instead used Ohtani’s debit card to pay the $60,000 dental bill.

The agreement also states that Mizuhara filed a false tax return for tax year 2022, noting multiple inaccuracies such as failing to report $4.1 million, according to the plea agreement. For that, he owes an additional $1.15 million in taxes.

ESPN’s Tisha Thompson contributed to this report.

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