Baseball Star’s Interpreter Admits Fraud, Swindles $17M from Shohei Ohtani’s Account

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In the bustling city of Santa Ana, California, an intriguing plot unfolds as Ippei Mizuhara, an interpreter who befriended baseball prodigy Shohei Ohtani, is held accountable in federal court for manipulating the communication gap between them to enrich himself. Mizuhara, intended as the linguistic bridge for Ohtani, facilitated exchanges between the baseball titan and his English-speaking teammates and fans. However, he had other plans in mind.

Mizuhara’s scheme wove a web of deceit that enabled him to exploit the Japanese-English language barrier, isolating Ohtani from the outside world while siphoning off a whopping $17 million from the athlete’s account without him suspecting a thing. In a remarkable stroke of audacity, he used the stolen funds to fuel his burgeoning addiction to gambling, splurge on baseball cards worth $325,000 and pay off his medical expenses.

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“In light of this, we continue to uncover more instances of fraudulent activity as we delve deeper into this case. Mizuhara had exploited Mr. Ohtani to an astonishing extent – he even swindled money to cover his dental expenses,” remarked Martin Estrada, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

Facing the gravity of his actions in a 45-minute court proceeding, the interpreter confessed his guilt. Mizuhara admitted that the funds he stole came from relentless wiring of money from Ohtani’s bank account, which he had access to due to his trusted position.

Mizuhara, who was a constant at Ohtani’s spectacular career highlights, stood by him throughout events like the Home Run Derby at the 2021 All-Star Game and his two American League MVP wins. Off the field, he was more than an interpreter–he played the role of Ohtani’s friend and confidant.

Despite this bond, Mizuhara gambled away staggering sums in the international soccer, NBA, NFL and college football, though he notably shied away from betting on baseball.

Estrada emphasized the vulnerability of Ohtani, an achiever in his field whose unfamiliarity with local customs painted him as an easy target for financial deception. What started in 2021 with Mizuhara cunningly switching Ohtani’s bank account details to his own advanced to a point where he impersonated the player to deceive the bank and continue with his trickery.

He successfully swindled almost $17 million from Ohtani’s bank account, which was established in Phoenix in 2018 for depositing his paychecks. Despite winning bets that added up to over $142 million, his losses ran up to $183 million, leading to a net loss of nearly $41 million.

Upon accepting a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office last month, Mizuhara deserted denying his guilt and pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return. These could land him 30 years in federal prison and an additional three years for making false tax returns.

The law demands Mizuhara to pay nearly $17 million as restitution to Ohtani and more than $1 million to the IRS, with the prospect of being deported to Japan, since he’s a legal permanent resident holding a green card.

This single case has made waves, leading to a broader investigation of illegal sports bookmaking organizations in Southern California, and the act of laundering money through casinos in Las Vegas. In totality, the authorities have apprehended a dozen defendants from these actions.

Relieved after the revelation, Ohtani expressed his gratitude towards his team, family, and the Dodgers organization and resolved to focus on the game.

The public became aware of the case through the Los Angeles Times and ESPN’s reports, provoking the Dodgers to dismiss the interpreter and prompting MLB to initiate their own inquiry. While it appears Mizuhara refrained from betting on baseball, MLB’s strict regulations forbid team members from betting with illegal or offshore bookmakers or even partaking in legal betting on the sport.