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New York Times: Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter is in negotiations to plead guilty amid theft allegations

By Joe Sutton and Jason Hanna, CNN

(CNN) — A former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani is in negotiations to plead guilty to federal crimes related to accusations he stole millions from Ohtani and used it for gambling, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing three people familiar with the matter.

Ippei Mizuhara was fired last month after Ohtani’s lawyers accused him of stealing from Ohtani and placing bets with a bookmaker who is under federal investigation. Ohtani later alleged Mizuhara stole the money from one of his bank accounts.

Prosecutors now believe that Mizuhara could have stolen money from Ohtani beyond the $4.5 million that Mizuhara initially was accused of taking, the three people with knowledge of the matter told the New York Times.

Law enforcement investigators believe they have evidence that Mizuhara was able to change the settings on Ohtani’s bank accounts, which would have prevented Ohtani from getting alerts and confirmation on the transactions, the New York Times reported, citing the three people knowledgeable of the case.

Ohtani has denied any involvement in the scandal.

An attorney for Mizuhara, Michael Freedman, told CNN Wednesday that “we do not have any comment at this time.”

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

Ohtani, who during the offseason signed baseball’s richest contract with the Dodgers, adamantly denied to reporters March 25 betting on any sport or paying a bookie. Also, elaborating on his lawyers’ accusations that Mizuhara stole from him, he alleged Mizuhara took money from one of his bank accounts.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do it on my behalf and I have never gone through a bookmaker to bet on sports,” Ohtani said through a different interpreter during the March 25 news conference at Dodger Stadium.

The two-time MVP said he didn’t know money was being sent from one of his bank accounts to a bookmaker until he was on the South Korea trip, when he met one-on-one with after a team meeting in the clubhouse that left the slugger-pitcher thinking something was wrong.

“I’m very saddened and shocked that someone who I’ve trusted has done this,” Ohtani, Major League Baseball’s only two-way player, said.

ESPN’s Tisha Thompson, citing multiple unnamed sources, said on CNN’s “The Lead” last month at least $4.5 million was withdrawn via wire transfer from Ohtani’s bank accounts, though it was unclear who initiated the transfers.

The scandal brought renewed scrutiny to professional sports’ closeness with gambling.

The Internal Revenue Service and Major League Baseball have said they are investigating the matter, with the league trying to determine whether its strict rules against gambling were broken. A player or employee who gambles on baseball can be suspended for a year, while someone who gambles on a game they are in some way a part of can be suspended for life. MLB’s commissioner can also penalize someone who goes outside legal sports betting entities and gambles with a bookie.

MLB considers Rule 21 so important it requires it be posted in every clubhouse.

Mizuhara told ESPN in March: “I never bet on baseball … That’s 100 percent. I knew that rule. … We have a meeting about that in spring training.”

Ohtani signed an unparalleled 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers this offseason after winning the American League MVP award twice over the past three seasons as a pitcher and designated hitter with the Angels.

Shifting explanations and statements

The saga began with reporters asking questions about alleged wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank account. Here’s how the scandal unfolded:

• Mizuhara told ESPN in a March 19 interview, arranged by Ohtani’s representative, he asked Ohtani last year to pay off his gambling debt, ESPN reported. Ohtani had no involvement in his betting, Mizuhara said.

• But by March 20, Ohtani’s spokesperson “disavowed” Mizuhara’s account, then released a statement saying Ohtani had been the victim of theft.

• That same day, Mizuhara was seen smiling in the Dodgers’ dugout and talking to Ohtani before translating for the star in the team’s 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres in the MLB season-opening game in Seoul, South Korea.

• Later March 20, Mizuhara was fired as Ohtani’s interpreter.

• After learning about the allegations against Ohtani and Mizuhara, MLB on March 22 announced it would be pursuing an investigation. The IRS also confirmed it was investigating the translator.

Ohtani says he learned that translator had a gambling debt after March game

Ohtani on March 25 said he learned of the issue on March 20 – the day the reports from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN would break – after the Dodgers’ first game in South Korea, when the team held a meeting in the clubhouse. Ohtani said the team meeting was in English and he didn’t have a “translator on my side” but he got a sense that something was wrong.

He said he met one-on-one after with Mizuhara at the club’s hotel. Ohtani said up until then he didn’t know Mizuhara had a gambling problem and was in debt.

“When we talked … that was when I found out he had a massive debt,” Ohtani said March 25. “Ippei (Mizuhara) admitted that he was sending money from my account to the bookmaker.”

The translator had told the media and Ohtani’s representatives the player had paid off gambling debts on behalf of a friend, according to the superstar. Ohtani said he was not aware of the media inquiries.

The IRS Criminal Investigation Los Angeles Field Office is investigating both Mizuhara and California resident and former bookmaker Mathew Bowyer, IRS spokesman Scott Villiard told CNN on March 22.

An attorney for Bowyer said he never met or had “any direct contact” with Ohtani but did do business with Mizuhara.

“Mathew Bowyer never spoke with or emailed with or texted with or had any contact whatsoever with Shohei Ohtani,” the attorney, Diane Bass, told CNN on March 23.

When discussing Ohtani’s name on “one of the wire transfers to Bowyer’s organization to cover a bet,” Bass said Saturday, “as far as Mr. Bowyer understood, the bet was from Ippei, or it was being covered by Mr. Ohtani for Ippei.”

Bass emphasized while Bowyer is under federal investigation, he has not been charged with a crime. She said Bowyer stopped his bookmaking operation in October 2023 when “feds showed up at his house.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Raja Razek, Homero De la Fuente, Steve Almasy, Dalia Faheid and Elizabeth Wolfe contributed to this report.

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