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‘Fraud on a massive scale’: Baseball star Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter faces federal charge after allegedly stealing $16M

<i>Christian Petersen/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br />
Christian Petersen/Getty Images via CNN Newsource

By Holly Yan and Cindy Von Quednow, CNN

Los Angeles (CNN) — Ippei Mizuhara, a former interpreter for baseball superstar Shohei Ohtani, faces a federal charge of bank fraud after allegedly stealing more than $16 million from Ohtani, a US attorney in Los Angeles announced Thursday.

Mizuhara made unauthorized transfers from Ohtani’s bank account from November 2021 until January 2024, US Attorney Martin Estrada said

Mizuhara took advantage of his close relationship with Ohtani – a longtime friend whom he accompanied on a constant basis due to the Japanese star’s limited English – “largely to finance his voracious appetite for illegal sports betting,” Estrada said.

“Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case,” the prosecutor said.

“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 said.

CNN has reached out to Mizuhara’s attorney for comment.

Mizuhara has agreed to surrender to federal authorities on Friday, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a news release. He is expected to make an appearance in federal district court in Los Angeles sometime that afternoon, spokesman Thom Mrozek said.

“We expect that the court will order Mr. Mizuhara released on bond. He will NOT be asked to enter a plea to the bank fraud charge during Friday’s hearing,” Mrozek said in the release.

Prosecutor: Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani

Shortly after Ohtani moved from Japan to the United States, Mizuhara helped the baseball phenom create a bank account in 2018, Estrada said Thursday.

But Mizuhara refused to give access to Ohtani’s other professional advisors – including his agent, accountant and financial advisor, the prosecutor said.

Phone and bank records indicate Mizuhara accessed Ohtani’s account online, Estrada said. And in 2021, Mizuhara started placing sports bets with a group of bookmakers linked to an illegal gambling operation, the prosecutor said.

“We do not believe any bets were made on baseball games,” Estrada said. But “over time, Mr. Mizuhara’s bets became more and more frequent. And over time, Mr. Mizuhara’s bets became larger and larger in amounts.”

Any winnings were not placed in Ohtani’s account, but rather in Mizuhara’s personal account, Estrada said.

Mizuhara even impersonated Ohtani to try to get a bank to approve large wire transfers to bookmakers, Estrada said.

“Mr. Mizuhara committed fraud on a massive scale,” the prosecutor said.

Authorities obtained recordings of phone calls during which Mizuhara allegedly lied to bank employees about being Ohtani and gave them personal biographical information in order to gain approval to transfer the money, Estrada said.

“There would have been no reason for Mr. Mizuhara to impersonate Mr. Ohtani in calls with the bank if these transfers had been authorized,” Estrada said.

The allegations became public while the Dodgers were in South Korea for an MLB season-opening series in March. ESPN and the Los Angeles Times reported Ohtani’s lawyers accused Mizuhara of “massive theft” of millions of dollars and placing bets with a bookie under federal investigation.

“We are aware of the charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against Mr. Mizuhara for bank fraud after a thorough federal investigation,” Major League Baseball said in a statement Thursday. “Given the information disclosed today, and other information we have already collected, we will wait until resolution of the criminal proceeding to determine whether further investigation is warranted.”

What happens next

Mizuhara, who was fired last month after the alleged theft came to light, is expected to appear in federal court in the coming days to face a charge of bank fraud, Estrada said.

If convicted, Mizuhara could face up to 30 years in prison.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Nick Watt contributed to this report.

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