Shohei Ohtani's ex-interpreter pleads guilty in gambling case

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(NEW YORK) -- Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter for MLB star Shohei Ohtani, pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges related to stealing nearly $17 million from the Dodgers player in order to cover gambling debts, according to the Department of Justice.

Mizuhara, 39, agreed to plead guilty last month to one count of bank fraud, which carries a maximum of 30 years in prison, and one count of subscribing to a false tax return, which carries up to three years in prison.

The guilty plea was formally entered at a change of plea hearing Tuesday morning, after Mizuhara previously pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment last month as a procedural matter. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 25.

"I had fallen into major gambling debt. The only thing I could think was using his money to help pay for the debt," Mizuhara told the court, according to Los Angeles ABC station KABC.

According to the plea agreement, Mizuhara helped Ohtani, who does not speak English, set up a bank account in Phoenix in 2018, during which he interpreted the login information for the player's account. In September 2021, Mizuhara started placing sports bets with an illegal bookmaker to whom he quickly became indebted, according to the plea agreement.

"Unable to pay his gambling debts, Mizuhara orchestrated a scheme to deceive and cheat the bank to fraudulently obtain money from the account," the DOJ previously said in a release.

Mizuhara accessed Ohtani's bank account and updated security information so bank employees would contact him, not Ohtani, when attempting to verify wire transfers from the account, according to the plea agreement. He also impersonated Ohtani on 24 occasions in calls to the bank, according to the agreement.

From November 2021 to March 2024, Mizuhara transferred nearly $17 million from the account to associates of the bookmaker in more than 40 wires without Ohtani's permission, according to the plea agreement.

Mizuhara also admitted in the plea agreement to falsely claiming that his total taxable income for 2022 was $136,865 when, in fact, he failed to report an additional $4.1 million in income.

"The source of the unreported income was from his scheme to defraud the bank," the DOJ said, noting that he owes approximately $1,149,400 in additional taxes for the tax year 2022, plus additional interest and penalties.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada previously stressed that Ohtani is a victim in the case and has cooperated "fully and completely" in the investigation.

The Dodgers announced they had fired the Japanese interpreter on March 20, after the gambling controversy surfaced. The team did not provide a specific reason for Mizuhara's termination.

Mizuhara was charged in the matter in April. Following his initial appearance in federal court on April 12, his attorney, Michael Freedman, said in a statement to ABC News that Mizuhara is "continuing to cooperate with the legal process and is hopeful that he can reach an agreement with the government to resolve this case as quickly as possible so that he can take responsibility."

"He wishes to apologize to Mr. Ohtani, the Dodgers, Major League Baseball, and his family," the statement continued. "As noted in court, he is also eager to seek treatment for his gambling."

Ohtani addressed the scandal for the first time on March 25 during a press conference. In a prepared statement, Ohtani said through an interpreter, "I am very saddened and shocked that someone who I trusted has done this."

Tuesday, June 4, 2024 at 1:29PM by Meredith Deliso, ABC News Permalink