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Prosecutors Say Ohtani’s Interpreter Stole $16 Million From Star

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Federal prosecutors said on Thursday that Shohei Ohtani had been the victim of a “fraud on a massive scale,” releasing a detailed complaint that claimed Ippei Mizuhara, the baseball star’s former interpreter, exploited his access and the fact that Ohtani did not speak English to steal $16 million from him to feed his gambling addiction.

The account provided by the authorities largely confirms what Ohtani told the public in late March, shortly after reports first surfaced that $4.5 million had been transferred from Ohtani’s account to Mizuhara. At that time, Ohtani explained how he believed Mizuhara had stolen money from him and that he did not bet on sports himself.

And authorities acknowledged that the speed at which the investigation proceeded — the allegations against Mizuhara surfaced only three weeks ago — was partly because of the desire to avoid having American sports tarred by the implication of a possible gambling scandal involving one of its biggest stars.

“I want to emphasize this point,” said E. Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California. “Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case.”

The case is a very public example of the fine line sports leagues are walking in regard to sports gambling. Professional leagues resisted any association with gambling for decades, but that has changed since a Supreme Court ruling six years ago led to 38 states now allowing legalized gambling on sports. (California is not one of them.)

Now leagues are taking millions of dollars from casinos and sports books, and advertisements from sports gambling companies are ubiquitous in stadiums and on game broadcasts. Still, the leagues worry about protecting the integrity of their games, and the perception that players wagering on games would affect their performances. Therefore, players are not allowed to bet on their sports or, in some cases, any sports.

Baseball has had several historically notable gambling scandals, including Pete Rose in the late ’80s and the 1919 Chicago Black Sox, making the situation especially delicate.

Tyler Hatcher, special agent in charge with the I.R.S. Criminal Investigation unit who was involved with the case, said that “protecting sports at the highest levels” is a priority of the federal government.

Estrada said the investigation moved so rapidly because of high public interest and questions that had been swirling about Ohtani’s connection to the case. Ohtani, 29, has been a major league phenomenon since coming to the United States from his native Japan in 2018. He both pitches and hits for power, drawing comparisons to greats like Babe Ruth. He was a two-time Most Valuable Player during six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels.

Excitement around Ohtani has been especially intense since he signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers in December. The allegations that Mizuhara had stolen money from Ohtani surfaced last month when Ohtani and the Dodgers were in Seoul to open the season against the San Diego Padres.

Estrada suggested that the government marshaled more resources for the case because of its high-profile nature.

The prosecutors laid out the evidence against Mizuhara in an extensive 37-page complaint that revealed a significant amount of details about Mizuhara’s betting habits, his relationship with Ohtani and how Mizuhara had implicated himself. In high-profile cases like this one, prosecutors at times use complaints instead of indictments because they allow authorities to tell more about what their investigation found, as there are more constraints on what prosecutors can say in indictments, according to Daniel C. Richman, a law professor at Columbia University and former federal prosecutor.

The money that Mizuhara took from Ohtani came directly from an account where Ohtani’s baseball salary was paid, the authorities said. While Mizuhara used the money to place bets with an illegal bookmaker, there is no indication that Mizuhara bet on baseball, nor that Ohtani knew about it, they said.

“There’s no indication Mr. Ohtani authorized the $16 million from his account to the bookmakers,” Estrada said.

The authorities charged Mizuhara with bank fraud, for which the maximum penalty is 30 years in prison. The complaint contains a message sent by Mizuhara in which he admits to a bookmaker that he stole the money from Ohtani.

“Technically I did steal from him,” Mizuhara said. “It’s all over for me.”

The release of the complaint comes a day after The New York Times reported that Mizuhara’s lawyer and federal prosecutors were negotiating a plea deal, that Ohtani had been interviewed by the authorities and that prosecutors had uncovered evidence Mizuhara stole more than the $4.5 million he was initially accused of taking.

Mizuhara will be arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles as soon as Friday. He is expected to enter a not guilty plea, a formal step that will take place as federal prosecutors and his lawyer, Michael Freedman, continue to negotiate a deal. Mr. Freedman declined to comment.

Estrada said that while Mizuhara took the money from Ohtani’s account to place bets, on the rare occasions that he won money, he transferred the winnings to a different account. The authorities said they had obtained recordings of calls between Mizuhara and the bank that had Ohtani’s account in which Mizuhara pretended that he was Ohtani.

Among the messages in the complaint was an exchange Mizuhara had with the person with whom he placed the bets.

“Have you seen the reports?” Mizuhara wrote the bookmaker after articles appeared in March.

The bookmaker responded, in part: “Obviously you didn’t steal from him. I understand it’s a cover job, I totally get it.”

“Technically I did steal from him,” Mizuhara said. “It’s all over for me.”

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