Ohtani Translator Charged In Federal Court On Massive Sports Betting Theft

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ANAHEIM, Calif — Former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been charged Thursday with stealing more than $16 million from Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani to pay off substantial sports betting debts owed to an illegal California bookmaker.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Mizuhara is negotiating a guilty plea amid a federal probe.

Mizuhara could serve up to 30 years in prison for bank fraud.

No evidence of Ohtani involvement

Ohtani, who has asserted his innocence during the sports betting investigation, denied authorizing wire transfers Mizuhara made from his account in an interview with authorities last week.

“Ohtani provided his cellphone to law enforcement, who determined that there was no evidence to suggest that Ohtani was aware of, or involved in, Mizuhara’s illegal gambling activity or payment of those debts,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a release.

Sports betting illegal in California

FanDuel CEO Amy Howe told LSR Tuesday that the probe into Ohtani and his former interpreter showed why sports betting requires state regulation. Sports betting is currently illegal in California.

However, FanDuel is attempting to repair a fractured relationship with major gaming tribes in the state. That follows the failures of Propositions 26 and 27 in 2022.

“I think it speaks to exactly why it’s so important to regulate in a state like California. In the Ohtani situation, that was all happening in the illegal market,” Howe told LSR. “But when you’re a regulated operator, if you detect unusual activity, we can spot that immediately and shut it down. And we also have phenomenal relationships with the leagues, with the NFL and the NBA. So we work closely together with them to stop that behavior. 

“It doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. But when you’re regulated, you’re above board in putting the measures in place to protect consumers and the integrity of the game. That’s why state-regulated frameworks work.” 

Details of Mizuhara’s alleged theft

There were initially allegations Mizuhara stole $4.5 million from Ohtani. However, it allegedly turned out to be much more.

According to an affidavit, Mizuhara wired more than $16 million in authorized transfers. They came from a checking account belong to Ohtani, from November 2021 to January 2024.

According to the release: “The transfers from this bank account allegedly were made from devices and IP addresses associated with Mizuhara, who served as Ohtani’s translator and de facto manager.”

How much Ohtani translator bet

Mizuhara placed approximately 19,000 bets from December 2021 to January 2024. The wagers ranged from $10 to $160,000.

Mizuhara lost nearly $183 million, and won just over $142 million. His net loss was $40.7 million. He did not bet on baseball.

Mizuhara confessed via text message to the bookmaker around March 20: “Technically I did steal from him. It’s all over for me.”

Mizuhara covered sports betting loss

Mizuhara helped Ohtani set up his bank account when he came to the US from Japan in 2018.

“Ohtani’s salary from playing professional baseball was deposited into this account and he never gave Mizuhara control of this or any of his other financial accounts,” according to the affidavit.

When Mizuhara began incurring heavy sports betting losses three years later, “the contact information on Ohtani’s bank account allegedly was changed to link the account to Mizuhara’s phone number and to an anonymous email address connected to Mizuhara.”

“Mizuhara allegedly also telephoned the bank and falsely identified himself as Ohtani to trick bank employees into authorizing wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank account to associates of the illegal gambling operation.”

Sports betting scandals draw critics

The sports betting industry has come under fire due to several scandals that have engulfed various professional teams and leagues. 

Integrity concerns have risen in part because the business relationships between the leagues, teams and the sportsbook operators. 

“Those are all the topics that we have to be vigilant about, sports integrity and responsible gaming,” Howe told LSR. “We just announced a couple weeks ago, we just rolled out the Responsible Online Gaming Alliance with seven other online sports betting operators.

“And that’s really a framework where we can do what we need to do to responsibly build this industry. Because we’re still in the relatively early days. And we know from more mature markets that there’s some important steps that we need to take to actually get ahead of some of these. And at the end of the day it’s about protecting consumers.”