MLB

As a formality, ex-interpreter for Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani pleads not guilty

The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani pleaded not guilty Tuesday to bank and tax fraud, a formality ahead of a plea deal he's negotiated with federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging sports betting case.

Mizuhara allegedly stole nearly $17M US from player to pay sports gambling debts

The former longtime interpreter for Dodgers baseball star Shohei Ohtani is surrounded by several reporters as he leaves federal court following his arraignment in Los Angeles on May 14, 2024.
Ippei Mizuhara's plea agreement says the former longtime interpreter for Dodgers baseball star Shohei Ohtani will be required to pay him restitution that could total nearly $17 million US, as well as more than $1 million to the IRS. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani pleaded not guilty Tuesday to bank and tax fraud, a formality ahead of a plea deal he's negotiated with federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging sports betting case.

Prosecutors say Ippei Mizuhara stole nearly $17 million US from the Ohtani to pay off sports gambling debts during a years-long scheme, at times impersonating Ohtani to bankers, and exploited his personal and professional relationship with the two-way player. Mizuhara signed a plea agreement that detailed the allegations on May 5, and prosecutors announced it several days later.

During his arraignment Tuesday in federal court in Los Angeles, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth asked Mizuhara to enter a plea to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return. The expected not-guilty plea was a procedural step as the case moves forward, even though he has already agreed to the plea deal and defence attorney Michael G. Freedman said he planned to plead guilty in the future.

Members of the media were not allowed inside the main courtroom and instead were seated in an audio-only overflow room. The Associated Press and other outlets filed a complaint with the court clerk.

Mizuhara only spoke to answer the judge's questions, with responses like "yes, ma'am" when asked whether he understood the proceedings.

WATCH | Ohtani addresses gambling scandal:

Shohei Ohtani addresses gambling scandal, says he's the victim

3 months ago
Duration 2:04
L.A. Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani is addressing the gambling scandal involving his former interpreter. Ohtani says he has never bet on sports, claiming Ippei Mizuhara stole millions from his accounts to cover his gambling debts.
There was no evidence Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara's gambling, and the player is cooperating with investigators, authorities said.

Mizuhara's plea agreement says he will be required to pay Ohtani restitution that could total nearly $17 million, as well as more than $1 million to the IRS. Those amounts could change prior to sentencing. The bank fraud charge carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, and the false tax return charge carries a sentence of up to three years in federal prison.

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.

Baseball player speaks to media with interpreter.
Shohei Ohtani, left, and former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara answer questions during a news conference at Dodger Stadium in December. (Ashley Landis/The Associated Press)

He has been free 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 — which include a requirement to undergo gambling addiction treatment — he will be on the hook for $25,000.

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

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.

Ohtani has sought to focus on the field as the case winds through the courts. Hours after his ex-interpreter first appeared in court in April, he hit his 175th home run in MLB — tying Hideki Matsui for the most by a Japan-born player — during the Dodgers' 8-7 loss to the San Diego Padres in 11 innings.

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