Ohtani’s ex-interpreter, charged with fraud, must get gambling addiction treatment, judge says

April 13, 2024 12:09 PM
  • Stefanie Dazio, Associated Press
April 13, 2024 12:09 PM
  • Stefanie Dazio, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani’s former longtime interpreter agreed Friday to undergo court-ordered gambling addiction treatment after federal prosecutors accused him of stealing $16 million from the Japanese baseball player to pay off debts.

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The initial federal court appearance by Ippei Mizuhara marked the first time the interpreter has been seen in public since the scandal exploded last month.

From the field at Dodger Stadium hours after Friday’s proceeding, Ohtani said he was “very grateful” for the investigation and would focus on baseball going forward.

Mizuhara exploited his personal and professional relationship with Ohtani to plunder millions from the two-way player’s account for years, at times impersonating Ohtani to bankers, prosecutors said.

He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of one count of bank fraud.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria A. Audero ordered Mizuhara to seek the treatment as a condition of his bond in the sports betting case. Michael G. Freedman, the interpreter’s attorney, said his client had planned to do so anyway.

While he is best known as Ohtani’s voice in ballparks across the country, Mizuhara only spoke on Friday to answer the judge’s questions, saying “yes” when Audero asked if he understood several parts of the case.

Mizuhara hopes to “reach an agreement with the government to resolve this case as quickly as possible so that he can take responsibility,” Freedman said in a statement issued after the hearing ended.

He added that his client “wishes to apologize to Mr. Ohtani, the Dodgers, Major League Baseball, and his family.”

A criminal complaint filed Thursday detailed the alleged scheme through evidence that included text messages, financial records and recordings of phone calls. Mizuhara’s winning bets totaled over $142 million, which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s. But his losing bets were around $183 million, a net loss of nearly $41 million. He did not wager on baseball.

Other bond conditions stipulate that Mizuhara cannot gamble, either electronically or in-person, go inside any gambling establishments or associate with any known bookmakers.

Mizuhara was released after the hearing on an unsecured $25,000 bond, colloquially known as a signature bond, meaning he did not have to put up any cash or collateral to be freed. If he violates the bond conditions, he will be on the hook for $25,000.

The judge noted his family ties and longtime residency in the Los Angeles area and self-surrender Friday morning when she approved the bond. She also mentioned that he did not have a criminal record.

While Ohtani’s name was never mentioned during the hearing, his presence loomed large over the roughly 10-minute proceeding inside a courtroom packed with press, much of it Japanese media. The judge and prosecutor only briefly referenced the baseball star as “the victim.”

But hours later, Ohtani spoke to the Los Angeles Times ahead of the team’s game against the San Diego Padres about the controversy, saying he very grateful for the Department of Justice’s investigation.”

“For me personally, this marks a break from this, and I’d like to focus on baseball,” he told the newspaper through a new interpreter.

In a group interview with reporters after the Dodgers’ 8-7 loss to the San Diego Padres in 11 innings, Ohtani did not take questions about the investigation.

A Dodgers public relations staff member said, “We’re talking about baseball.”

There was no evidence that Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara’s gambling, and the player is cooperating with investigators, authorities said.

MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering on baseball, even legally. MLB also bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

The Los Angeles Times and ESPN broke the news of the prosecution last month, prompting the Dodgers to fire the interpreter and MLB to open its own investigation.

On Friday before the Padres game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he was happy Ohtani has not been implicated in the case and everyone can move forward. He has not seen the investigation affect Ohtani or anyone else on the team, he added.

“He’s handled it with flying colors. He’s done a great job of just focusing on playing baseball and not letting it be a distraction for him,” Roberts said. “Our guys, as well, have handled it really well as far as that noise and not letting it affect play.

“I think for us, we’ve already moved past it, to be quite honest with you. He addressed us earlier, we felt good about it and supported him. Nothing has changed,” Roberts said.

Ohtani proved Roberts correct hours later when he hit his 175th home run in MLB, tying Hideki Matsui for the most by a Japan-born player.

AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.