Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani's ex-interpreter, pleads not guilty

The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday to felony charges of bank and tax fraud.

Prosecutors said Ippei Mizuhara allegedly stole nearly $17 million from Ohtani to pay off sports gambling debts during a yearslong scheme, at times impersonating the Japanese baseball player to bankers, and exploited their personal and professional relationship. Mizuhara signed a plea agreement that detailed the allegations on May 5, and prosecutors announced it several days later.

Mizuhara’s attorney stated in court that there is a plea agreement in this case and that Mizuhara intends to plead guilty at a later date. 

There was no evidence Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara’s gambling, and the player is cooperating with investigators, authorities said.

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PHOTO: Mona Edwards (Mona Edwards)

"You can imagine if you have a really close friend, close confident and you find out for years they have been betraying you, they are in fact traders, that can impact you in many ways beyond the financial impact," said United States attorney Martin Estrada. 

The charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 33 years.

"The 19,000 bets, the recordings where he had impersonated Mr. Ohtani, text messages between Mr. Mizuhara and the bookie in this case. Only after being presented with that mountain of evidence did Mr. Mizuhara decide it was in his interest to plead guilty," Estrada added. 


The court appearance comes after Ohtani’s back tightness forced him to leave a Saturday night game against the San Diego Padres. While he sat out Sunday’s game as well as a precaution, he’s having an outstanding season, hitting 11 home runs with a National League-best .352 batting average going into Monday’s game against the San Francisco Giants.

Mizuhara’s plea agreement says he will be required to pay Ohtani restitution that could total nearly $17 million, as well as more than $1 million to the IRS. Those amounts could change prior to sentencing.

Mizuhara’s winning bets totaled over $142 million, which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s. But his losing bets were around $183 million, a net loss of nearly $41 million. He did not wager on baseball.

He has been free on an unsecured $25,000 bond, colloquially known as a signature bond, meaning he did not have to put up any cash or collateral to be freed. If he violates the bond conditions — which include a requirement to undergo gambling addiction treatment — he will be on the hook for $25,000.

The Los Angeles Times and ESPN broke the news of the prosecution in late March, prompting the Dodgers to fire the interpreter and the MLB to open its own investigation.

MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering on baseball, even legally. MLB also bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Ohtani has sought to focus on the field as the case winds through the courts. Hours after his ex-interpreter first appeared in court in April, he hit his 175th home run in MLB — tying Hideki Matsui for the most by a Japan-born player — during the Dodgers’ 8-7 loss to the San Diego Padres in 11 innings.