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Feds accuse Ohtani ex-interpreter of $16M theft

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The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani stole more than $16 million over two years from Ohtani to pay off gambling debts to an illegal sportsbook, according to an affidavit filed by federal authorities Thursday.

Federal authorities filed a complaint accusing Ippei Mizuhara, 39, of bank fraud. Bank fraud can carry a maximum fine of up to $1 million and/or up to 30 years in prison, according to federal sentencing guidelines.

Ohtani, referred to in the complaint only as a “professional baseball player,” told authorities that he did not authorize the transfers.

Text messages showed that Mizuhara began gambling in September 2021 and began losing “substantial sums of money” later that year. Bank records also show that the phone number and email address on the account were changed to those associated with Mizuhara.

Investigators also relied on recorded phone calls from the bank in which Mizuhara falsely identified himself as Ohtani to “trick and deceive” bank employees into authorizing the transfers. The complaint outlined one specific transfer on June 20, 2023, of $500,000 to an associate of a bookmaker. While the bookmaker is not named in the complaint, his role and detail match that of Mathew Bowyer.

The investigation started just three weeks ago when news broke that at least $4.5 million was transmitted from Ohtani’s bank account to Bowyer’s bookmaking operation, which is under federal investigation.

In the first of a pair of interviews with ESPN, Mizuhara said he had amassed huge gambling debts and that Ohtani helped him out by wiring the money in $500,000 increments last year. But hours later, Mizuhara changed the account and said Ohtani had no knowledge of the payments. The Dodgers fired Mizuhara the same day.

Mizuhara said he never bet on baseball.

Concurrently, attorneys for Ohtani alleged that he had been the victim of a “massive theft.”

At a subsequent news conference, Ohtani told the media he never bet on baseball or any other sports and had no knowledge of Mizuhara’s alleged actions until a meeting after the Dodgers’ season opener in Seoul, South Korea, during which Mizuhara addressed the team and said he had a gambling addiction.

The U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, the IRS and the Department of Homeland Security are also investigating Bowyer and involved in a sprawling money laundering and illegal gambling case in Las Vegas that has roped in former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix. Nix was also a Southern California bookmaker whose clients included NBA legend Scottie Pippen, former MLB All-Star Yasiel Puig and Maverick Carter, the longtime manager and friend of LeBron James.

ESPN’s Tisha Thompson and T.J. Quinn contributed to this report.

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