Shohei Ohtani's interpreter fired by LA Dodgers amid allegation of 'massive theft'

ByTisha Thompson ESPN logo
Wednesday, March 20, 2024
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LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers interpreter for Shohei Ohtani was fired Wednesday afternoon after questions surrounding at least $4.5 million in wire transfers sent from Ohtani's bank account to a bookmaking operation set off a series of events.

Ippei Mizuhara, the longtime friend and interpreter for Ohtani, incurred the gambling debts to a Southern California bookmaking operation that is under federal investigation, multiple sources told ESPN. How he came to lose his job started with reporters asking questions about the wire transfers.

Initially, a spokesman for Ohtani told ESPN the slugger had transferred the funds to cover Mizuhara's gambling debt. The spokesman presented Mizuhara to ESPN for a 90-minute interview Tuesday night, during which Mizuhara laid out his account in great detail. However, as ESPN prepared to publish the story Wednesday, the spokesman disavowed Mizuhara's account and said Ohtani's lawyers would issue a statement.

"In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft, and we are turning the matter over to the authorities," read the statement from Berk Brettler LLP.

The spokesman declined to answer any further questions, and the statement did not specify whom they believe perpetrated the alleged theft.

When asked by ESPN on Wednesday afternoon -- after the Berk Brettler statement -- if he had been accused of theft, Mizuhara said he was told he could not comment but declined to say by whom.

The developments this week came as federal investigators are examining the operation run by Southern California bookmaker Mathew Bowyer. The wire-transfer payments were sent from Ohtani's account to an associate of Bowyer's, according to multiple sources and bank data reviewed by ESPN. Multiple sources, including Mizuhara, told ESPN that Ohtani does not gamble, and that the funds covered Mizuhara's losses.

ESPN had reviewed bank information showing Ohtani's name on two $500,000 payments sent last September and October.

While sports betting is legal in nearly 40 states, it remains illegal in California. Government-regulated sportsbooks require bettors to pay up front for their wagers, while illegal bookmakers accept bets on credit.

Sources close to the gambling operation told ESPN that Bowyer dealt directly with Mizuhara, who placed bets on international soccer matches and other sports -- but not baseball -- starting in 2021. A source said Bowyer was aware of the name on the wire transfers but chose not to ask any questions as long as payments came in; however, the source said Bowyer allowed people to believe Ohtani was a client in order to boost business.

Bowyer's attorney, Diane Bass, told ESPN: "Mr. Bowyer never met or spoke with Shohei Ohtani." She declined to answer any other questions.

In the Tuesday interview arranged by Ohtani's spokesman, Mizuhara, 39, told ESPN that he asked Ohtani last year to pay off his gambling debt, which multiple sources said had ballooned to at least $4.5 million. Mizuhara said that he previously had placed bets via DraftKings and assumed bets placed through Bowyer were legal.

"Obviously, he [Ohtani] wasn't happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again," Mizuhara said. "He decided to pay it off for me."

"I want everyone to know Shohei had zero involvement in betting. I want people to know I did not know this was illegal. I learned my lesson the hard way. I will never do sports betting ever again."

But on Wednesday afternoon, Mizuhara told ESPN that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling debts and that Ohtani had not transferred money to the bookmaker's associate.

Mizuhara and Ohtani are friends in addition to their professional relationship. Mizuhara has translated for Ohtani since the star moved to the U.S. in 2018, accompanying the two-way player in dugouts, locker rooms, player lounges, on trips, in media settings, and elsewhere, making him highly recognizable to baseball fans. He has been the interpreter for Ohtani with team managers and coaches and goes over scouting reports with Ohtani during games. The two are rarely separated -- Mizuhara runs errands for the pitcher, carries his water bottle, and is so ever-present an Ohtani teammate once referred to the duo as having a "brotherhood" that goes beyond friendship.

Mizuhara had a contract with the Los Angeles Angels when Ohtani played there and signed with the Dodgers this off-season. Mizuhara confirmed to ESPN he has been paid between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.

Mizuhara told ESPN on Tuesday his bets were on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football.

"I never bet on baseball," Mizuhara said. "That's 100%. I knew that rule ... We have a meeting about that in spring training."

MLB players and employees are allowed to bet on sports other than baseball but not with illegal bookmakers or offshore websites. The league rulebook states that bets placed with illegal bookmakers are subject to punishment at the commissioner's discretion.

A Major League Baseball source told ESPN the league has not been contacted by federal authorities and was not aware of the situation until ESPN raised it in recent days. The source said MLB's next step would be to gather facts, which could take time in light of the ongoing federal investigation.

Federal authorities learned of Ohtani's wire payments in January as part of their investigation into Bowyer's bookmaking operation, a source told ESPN. ESPN reviewed wire-transfer data for two of the transactions, each totaling $500,000; "Shohei Otani" is visible alongside various bank account and wire-transfer information and the word "loan." "Otani" is the Japanese two-way player's legal name.

Officials from the U.S. attorney's office in the Central District of California declined comment. An attorney for Bowyer's bookmaking associate also declined comment.

Two sources said neither Ohtani nor Mizuhara has been contacted by federal authorities.

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Bowyer, 48, could be facing potential felony charges. His home was raided by federal authorities in October, according to multiple sources and documents reviewed by ESPN. According to a search warrant inventory obtained by ESPN, agents seized cash, casino chips, banking documents, a money-counting machine, multiple computers, portable storage devices and cell phones. Agents also seized two Breitling watches and nearly a dozen luxury handbags made by Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermes.

Mizuhara told ESPN he met Bowyer at a San Diego poker game in 2021 and started betting with him on credit later that year. He estimated his losses mounted to more than $1 million by the end of 2022 and ballooned from there.

"I'm terrible [at gambling.] Never going to do it again. Never won any money," Mizuhara said. "I mean, I dug myself a hole and it kept on getting bigger, and it meant I had to bet bigger to get out of it and just kept on losing. It's like a snowball effect."

After Ohtani agreed to pay the debts, Mizuhara said on Tuesday, Ohtani logged onto his own computer and sent the wire transfers under Mizuhara's supervision in installments over several months last year. They added "loan" to the description field in the transactions.

"We had to add a description for the wire," Mizuhara said. "I think Matt [Bowyer] might have told me to just put 'loan.' You had to put something."

Asked why Ohtani didn't simply give him the money instead of paying Bowyer's associate directly, Mizuhara said Ohtani didn't trust him with the money.

"He didn't want me to gamble it away," Mizuhara said.

Mizuhara said he told Ohtani he would pay him back.

When an ESPN reporter asked Ohtani's camp about the allegation from Mizuhara that Ohtani was present and helped move the funds and that he was going to be paid back, the spokesman contacted Ohtani's attorneys, who then issued the statement saying he was the victim of a "massive theft."

Mizuhara, though, Wednesday afternoon, walked back much of what he had said late Tuesday, saying Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling activities, debts or efforts to repay them.

"Obviously, this is all my fault, everything I've done," he said. "I'm ready to face all the consequences."

He said he did not have legal representation but was "working on it." He said he spoke with ESPN Wednesday afternoon on his own free will.

He reiterated, though, that he had never bet on baseball.

The Dodgers are in South Korea for their season-opening series, which began Wednesday against the San Diego Padres with a 5-2 victory. Mizuhara was seen in the Dodgers' dugout during the game. A Dodgers spokesperson said Mizuhara addressed the clubhouse after the game, telling them a story was coming out and that it was all his fault, saying he has a gambling addiction.

Ohtani signed a record 10-year, $700-million contract with the Dodgers in December, making him the highest-paid player in North American sports history. The majority of that money, $680 million, is deferred to be paid between 2034 and 2043.

Multiple sources told ESPN that Bowyer's operation is being investigated by the same U.S. attorney's office handling a sprawling federal money laundering and illegal gambling case in Las Vegas that drew in former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix. In March 2022, Nix -- who had become a bookmaker in California -- agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to operate an illegal sports gambling business and filing a false tax return. His sentencing is scheduled for September. Four other men connected to his bookmaking business also pleaded guilty.

As part of his plea, Nix admitted to receiving nearly $1.5 million in income that he failed to report to the IRS that was connected to gambling losses sustained by an unnamed professional football player, an MLB coach and a baseball analyst. Prosecutors said a sports broadcaster told Nix that he planned to refinance his home to pay off his gambling debts.

In November 2022, former MLB right fielder Yasiel Puig was charged with lying to federal law enforcement officials about placing bets with Nix's operation. His case is currently before the 9th Circuit of Appeals, according to a spokesperson with the U.S. attorney's office.

Scott Sibella, former president of the Las Vegas casinos Resorts World and MGM Grand, also pleaded guilty in January following the Nix investigation. According to his plea agreement, Sibella knew that Nix operated an illegal bookmaking business, but still allowed Nix to gamble at MGM Grand and its affiliated properties with illicit proceeds generated from the illegal gambling business without notifying the casino's compliance department. In conjunction with Sibella's guilty plea, MGM Grand and the Cosmopolitan casino agreed to pay $7.45 million in fines.

Tisha Thompson is an investigative reporter for ESPN. Reach her at

ESPN's TJ Quinn and Paula Lavigne contributed to this report.