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Ippei Mizuhara, Shohei Ohtani's ex-interpreter, pleads guilty to stealing millions from him

Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, pleaded guilty to federal charges Tuesday, admitting he stole millions from the Los Angeles Dodgers' star player to pay off illegal gambling debts. 

Mizuhara, who has been the subject of a massive investigation that started in March, previously pleaded not guilty in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom during a procedural matter in early May. The Justice Department, however, had previously announced that Mizuhara had agreed to a plea deal.

He appeared in federal court to plead guilty to one count each of bank fraud and subscribing to a false tax return. The bank fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 30 years in federal prison, while the tax charge carries up to three years in prison. He will be sentenced on Oct. 25.  

Prosecutors said the 39-year-old Mizuhara stole nearly $17 million from Ohtani to pay for his gambling. 

During a news conference Tuesday following the guilty plea, Martin Estrada, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, told reporters Mizuhara could receive a lesser sentence, but will "likely" face time behind bars as well as the risk of deportation. Mizuhara is not a U.S. citizen.

Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles Dodgers Press Conference
Shohei Ohtani (left) and Ippei Mizuhara (right) during an introductory press conference at Dodger Stadium on Dec. 14, 2023. Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The federal prosecutor said Mizuhara "took advantage of his friend, the person who had given him an opportunity." 

Estrada said the Dodgers star's former interpreter "had victimized Mr. Ohtani to the extent that he wouldn't even pay for dental fees."

"He stole money from Mr. Ohtani to pay for his own dental expenses," Estrada said. 

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

"It's time to close this chapter, move on and continue to focus on playing and winning ballgames," Ohtani added.

Major League Baseball also issued a statement in which it said that its own investigation into the "matter has been closed."

"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 MLB's statement read. 

The Dodgers released a statement following Mizuhara's guilty plea, saying the team was focused on moving forward with the case resolved. 

"With today's plea in the criminal proceedings against Ippei Mizuhara and the conclusion of both the federal and MLB investigations, the Dodgers are pleased that Shoehi and the team can put this entire matter behind them and move forward in pursuit of a World Series title."

Mizuhara was accused of "massive theft" by attorneys representing Ohtani the day after Major League Baseball's 2024 season got underway. He was fired by the Dodgers shortly afterward, at which point the complicated story began to unravel. 

"According to the complaint, Mr. Mizuhara stole this money, largely to finance his voracious appetite for illegal sports betting," Estrada said at the time charges were announced in April.    

In the weeks since, the MLB, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated their own investigations, revealing along the way that Mizuhara allegedly took nearly $17 million from Ohtani to pay an illegal Orange County-based bookmaker. 

Ohtani has been cleared of any potential involvement by federal prosecutors. 

"Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case," Estrada told reporters Tuesday. "It is clear from the evidence that he did not profit from this, he did not benefit from this. He, in fact, was harmed substantially by this."

Mizuhara helped Ohtani, who primarily speaks Japanese, set up bank accounts upon his move to the U.S. after he signed with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017. Estrada said that one of these bank accounts, which was set up in Arizona, became the source of wire transfers to the bookmaker. 

"I am very saddened and shocked someone whom I trusted has done this," the Japanese baseball star said through a new interpreter after the news broke. "Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies. ... I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker."

Baltimore Orioles v Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani (right) and Ippei Mizuhara (left) during their time with the Los Angeles Angels in 2022. Jayne Kamin-Oncea / Getty Images

Ohtani and Mizuhara ended their six-year run in Anaheim when the two-way player signed a monstrous 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers after the 2023 season came to an end.  

Mizuhara was also accused of filing a false tax return in 2022 when he claimed to make $136,865. Instead, he earned more than $4.1 million from his bank fraud, according to prosecutors. 

On top of gambling payments, prosecutors also allege that Mizuhara took more than $60,000 to fund personal dental work and purchase $325,000 worth of baseball cards. 

Prosecutors first came across Mizuhara's crimes while they were carrying out a broader open federal investigation into illegal sports betting, according to Estrada.

He said there was no evidence found that there was any sports betting involving baseball in Mizuhara's case.

Illegal gambling has become an unforeseen chapter of the 2024 MLB season, with former Angels infielder David Fletcher becoming ensnared in an investigation for placing bets with the same bookmaker in late May. 

On Monday, league officials also announced that San Diego Padres infielder Tucupita Marcano has received a lifetime ban from the MLB for betting on baseball games last season when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

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