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MX News Update 2024

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Ohtani’s ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara pleads guilty to bank and tax fraud

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

Mizuhara, 39, who served as 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.

No sentencing date has been set. The total maximum sentence Mizuhara could receive for both crimes would be 33 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine, but in exchange for his plea — outlined in the agreement released Wednesday — prosecutors would recommend a reduced sentence.

Under the plea agreement, Mizuhara will have 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 into the $500,000 transfers from Ohtani’s bank account to the bookmaker. Mizuhara initially told ESPN that Ohtani had sent the money to help him pay off his debts, but later changed his story to say Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling or the bank transfers. Ohtani’s attorneys claimed the slugger was the victim of a “massive theft.”

“The magnitude of this defendant’s deception and theft is enormous,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said in a news release. “He abused 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 that “Mr. Mizuhara exploited his relationship with Mr. Ohtani to fund his own irresponsibility.”

The documents filed Wednesday further detail a trusting relationship in which Ohtani, who does not speak English, relied on his Japanese interpreter to help him with everything from answering questions at press conferences and dealings with financial advisors 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 exploiting his access to Ohtani’s financial accounts to pay off his debts.

The agreement describes Mizuhara’s transfers of Ohtani’s money to the bookmaker’s employees as one transfer of $40,010 in November 2021, one transfer of $300,000 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 the contact information on the baseball player’s bank accounts so that communications would reach Mizuhara. He even posed as Ohtani on the phone by calling the bank, which he did at least 24 times, according to the settlement.

In one such attempt, on February 2, 2022, Mizuhara called a bank representative – called Bank A – for help obtaining 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 because 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 for him via a check 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. He owes another $1.15 million in taxes for that.

ESPN’s Tisha Thompson contributed to this report.