Ohtani interpreter appears in court over $17 mn fraud

A lawyer for Ippei Mizuhara said in court on Tuesday that hjis client has reached a plea deal with the US Justice Department (Frederic J. Brown)
A lawyer for Ippei Mizuhara said in court on Tuesday that hjis client has reached a plea deal with the US Justice Department (Frederic J. Brown)

Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter appeared in court in California on Tuesday on charges of illegally transferring nearly $17 million from the baseball star's bank account to pay off gambling debts.

A lawyer for Ippei Mizuhara said the 39-year-old has reached a deal with prosecutors over his charges, which the US Justice Department said will be one count of bank fraud -- punishable by up to 30 years in prison -- and one count of filing a false tax return, which carries a maximum sentence of three years.

Federal prosecutors have said Mizuhara -- Ohtani's long-time friend and confidant -- plundered millions from the Los Angeles Dodgers ace's bank account to fund an "insatiable appetite" for gambling.

Mizuhara's appearance at a Los Angeles court on Tuesday was an arraignment at which he formally pleaded not guilty. A date for a subsequent appearance at which he is expected to admit the charges was not set.

Japanese sensation Ohtani, currently the biggest star in baseball, joined the Dodgers last December in a record-breaking $700 million deal -- the richest contract in North American sports history.

After an initial court appearance last month, Mizuhara's lawyer said his client wished to apologize to "Ohtani, the Dodgers, and Major League Baseball" for his actions and sought a swift resolution so he can "take responsibility."

The revelations surrounding Mizuhara erupted as the new baseball season got under way in March, stunning the sports world and potentially embroiling Ohtani in scandal.

Prosecutors have repeatedly emphasized that the Japanese slugger was an innocent victim of Mizuhara's deception, and that there was no evidence to suggest the Dodgers star was aware of, or involved in, illegal gambling.

A criminal complaint released by prosecutors last month detailed a staggering volume of bets placed by Mizuhara, who exploited the language barrier to keep Ohtani, his financial advisers and management team in the dark.

The complaint revealed that between December 2021 and January 2024, Mizuhara placed approximately 19,000 bets ranging in value from $10 to $160,000 at an average of around $12,800 per bet.

During that period, Mizuhara had winning bets worth $142.3 million, and losing bets of $182.9 million -- leaving him with losses of roughly $40.7 million.

Ohtani is a rarity in baseball in that he combines elite-level pitching and hitting ability, making him a generational talent who has been portrayed as a modern-day version of Babe Ruth.

Those skills and his clean-cut image have made him the global face of baseball.