MLB star Shohei Ohtani says he has ‘closure’ after former interpreter pleads guilty to stealing millions from him

Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani said he has “closure” and is ready to “move on” after his longtime interpreter Ippei Mizuhara pleaded guilty in court Tuesday to fraud and tax charges for stealing almost $17 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers slugger to pay off gambling debts.

“Now that the investigation has been completed, this full admission of guilt has brought important closure to me and my family. I want to sincerely thank the authorities for finishing their thorough and effective investigation so quickly and uncovering all of the evidence,” Ohtani said in a statement.

“This has been a uniquely challenging time, so I am especially grateful for my support team - my family, agent, agency, lawyers, and advisors along with the entire Dodger organization, who showed endless support throughout this process. It’s time to close this chapter, move on and continue to focus on playing and winning ballgames.”

Mizuhara, 39, reached a plea agreement last month in which he agreed to plead guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of filing a false income tax return, according to the Justice Department.

In court on Tuesday, he formally pleaded guilty and indicated that he understood all the charges and the consequences. When asked by Judge John W. Holcomb to describe in his own words what he did, Mizuhara said the “only way” he could think of to get out of his gambling debts was to use money from Ohtani’s account to pay what he owed.

He faces up to 30 years in prison for bank fraud and up to three years for filing a false tax return. His sentencing is scheduled for October 25.

In this courtroom sketch, defense attorney Michael G. Freedman, left, and Ippei Mizuhara appear in front of US District Judge John Holcomb in federal court in Los Angeles on Tuesday. - Bill Robles/AP

Ohtani’s statement and Mizuhara’s guilty plea represent the end of a saga that first became public in March on the eve of the MLB season. The scandal upended what had been perceived as a close friendship between the Japanese star and his interpreter and brought renewed scrutiny to the normalization and legalization of sports gambling in recent years.

The court hearing also came the same day that MLB banned San Diego Padres player Tucupita Marcano for life after he bet on games and suspended four other players for a year for betting on games while in the minor leagues.

Speaking after the hearing, US Attorney Martin Estrada said the evidence showed Ohtani was victimized by Mizuhara. He connected the case to other frauds committed against older adults and immigrant groups.

“Mr. Ohtani is an immigrant, came to this country, is not familiar with the ways of this country, and therefore was easily prey to someone who is more familiar with our financial systems and was able to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani,” Estrada said.

Prosecutors have not decided what they will seek at sentencing but will follow the sentencing guidelines, which may call for a sentence lower than the maximum, Estrada said. “That being said, based on the extent of the conduct here, the sentence will likely be one that calls for incarceration,” he added.

MLB released a statement clearing Ohtani of any wrongdoing.

“Based on the thoroughness of the federal investigation that was made public, the information MLB collected, and the criminal proceeding being resolved without being contested, MLB considers Shohei Ohtani a victim of fraud and this matter has been closed,” the league said.

Interpreter stole to cover gambling debts

Mizuhara began placing sports bets with an illegal bookmaker in September 2021 and then pilfered from Ohtani to cover the debts, authorities said.

“From no later than November 2021 to March 2024, Mizuhara used Ohtani’s password to successfully sign into the bank account and then changed the account’s security protocols without Ohtani’s knowledge or permission,” the Justice Department said. “In total, Mizuhara called the bank and impersonated Ohtani on approximately 24 occasions.”

According to a court document, Mizuhara “fraudulently transferred and willfully caused to be transferred approximately $16.5 million.” Prosecutors alleged Mizuhara used the money to pay off illegal gambling debts and expenses, including $60,000 on personal dental work and $325,000 on baseball cards.

From December 2021 to January 2024, Mizuhara made a remarkable 19,000 wagers, with net losses of $40.7 million, the criminal complaint states.

Ohtani, who has denied any wrongdoing, is considered a victim in the case, prosecutors said.

Shohei Ohtani, left, and his then-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara speak on December 14, 2023. - Aude Guerrucci/Reuters
Shohei Ohtani, left, and his then-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara speak on December 14, 2023. - Aude Guerrucci/Reuters

“The extent of this defendant’s deception and theft is massive,” Estrada said last month. “He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit.”

The Justice Department said Mizuhara has admitted he owes more than $1.1 million in taxes for 2022 and the IRS Criminal Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations are looking into the case.

Mizuhara, who is out of custody on $25,000 bond, could be deported as he is not a US citizen, the plea agreement and the US attorney’s office said. Mizuhara is a legal permanent resident who has a green card, the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California told CNN.

Mizuhara and Ohtani, who does not speak English, first worked together from 2013 to 2017 at Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball League team Nippon-Ham Fighters, where Mizuhara worked as an interpreter for non-Japanese speaking players, according to Mizuhara then became Ohtani’s interpreter in his rookie season with the Los Angeles Angels in 2018.

Ohtani starred for six seasons with the Angels as both a slugger and a pitcher, twice winning the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award. This past offseason, he signed a historic $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers.

The allegations against Mizuhara came to light in March when, after reporting from ESPN and the Los Angeles Times, Ohtani’s lawyers accused Mizuhara of “massive theft” of millions of dollars and placing bets with a bookie under federal investigation.

In April, Ohtani said he was “very grateful for the Department of Justice’s investigation,” according to a statement given to CNN by his representatives. “For me personally, this marks a break from this, and I’d like to focus on baseball.”

Despite the scandal, Ohtani has excelled in his first year with the Dodgers and remains one of the best sluggers in baseball.

CNN’s Jacob Lev, David Close and Stephanie Becker contributed to this report.

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