Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani's former translator, to plead guilty to bank fraud

Ippei Mizuhara, the former translator for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani has agreed to plead guilty to charges stemming from allegations that he stole millions from the two-time MLB MVP to pay off massive gambling debts, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

Mizuhara has agreed to plead guilty to one count of bank fraud, which carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, and another count of filing a false tax return, which could add another three years to his sentence.

The Justice Department alleges that Mizuhara stole nearly $17 million from Ohtani's personal bank account, without Ohtani's knowledge, to pay off his debts. 

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"The extent of this defendant’s deception and theft is massive," United States Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement Wednesday. "He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit."

Mizuhara is accused of using his skills as a Japanese translator to his advantage, to help him defraud his former friend. According to the criminal complaint, Mizuhara was with Ohtani when he went to Phoenix, Arizona in 2018. The two were in the Grand Canyon State so Ohtani could establish a bank account after he arrived in the U.S. to play for the MLB and deposit his salary. Mizuhara translated for the bank employees, who didn't speak Japanese, and Ohtani, who didn't speak English. Mizuhara was there when the bank gave Ohtani his login credentials for the bank account.

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That's when federal investigators said Mizuhara started placing illegal sports bets with an Orange County bookmaker and losing a lot. According to the criminal complaint, Mizuhara averaged 25 bets per day for two years, accumulating more than $40 million in debt

That's when the Justice Department alleges that Mizuhara accessed Ohtani's bank account, changed the login credentials and the associated email address and phone number, and started making payments to his bookmaker from that account. Mizuhara did all this without Ohtani's knowledge.

Over the next few years, Mizuhara is accused of using Ohtani's money to pay for several things, including dental work and baseball cards.

The complaint also alleges that Ohtani's agent and financial advisors asked Mizuhara at one point for access to that Phoenix bank account. However, Mizuhara lied and told them that Ohtani wanted to keep the account private.

The guilty plea seems to give credence to what Ohtani has maintained since the story broke in March — that he did not know Mizuhara's access to his bank accounts or his illegal bets. Mizuhara originally claimed to ESPN that Ohtani knew about the payments to the bookmaker but said that the payments were for someone else. He later recanted this story.

The Dodgers fired Mizuhara on March 20 after the gambling allegations surfaced. Days later Ohtani, through a new translator, addressed the scandal for the first time, saying he was "just beyond shocked" by his former friend's betrayal. Ohtani also claimed that he first learned about the theft after the Dodgers' first game in South Korea, when Mizuhara told the team about his gambling addiction.

Mizuhara is expected to enter his guilty plea at an arraignment next week.