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Q&A: What's next for Shohei Ohtani and MLB after charges against Ippei Mizuhara?

Bill Shaikin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Baseball

LOS ANGELES — On March 25, Shohei Ohtani stood before television cameras assembled at Dodger Stadium and said this about his longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara: “Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies.”

That same day, according to a federal criminal complaint filed Thursday, Ohtani granted consent for law enforcement officials to search his phone. The 37-page complaint, which charges Mizuhara with bank fraud, provided details that support what Ohtani said publicly.

On March 20, after The Los Angeles Times first reported Ohtani’s representatives had accused Mizuhara of “massive theft” by using the the player’s money to pay off Mizuhara’s gambling debts, Mizuhara sent a message to his bookie.

“Have you seen the reports?” Mizuhara asked, according to the complaint.

“Yes, but that’s all bullshit. Obviously, you didn’t steal from him,” the bookie replied. “I understand it’s a cover job I totally get it.”

Mizuhara’s response: “Technically I did steal from him. it’s all over for me.”

What happens now between Ohtani and Major League Baseball?

On March 22, Major League Baseball announced an investigation into what it called “the allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhara.”

Mizuhara already had been fired by the Dodgers and, as such, would not need to cooperate with the league. The bookmaker involved also could not be compelled to cooperate with the league.

Depending on how Mizuhara’s criminal proceedings play out, the league could interview Ohtani afterwards and decide whether any discipline would be warranted — or could drop the matter entirely. For now, the league waits.

Federal investigators said Thursday they are working with “other interested parties” but declined to say whether MLB was one of them.

Did MLB issue a statement?

Yes, and here it is: “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. According to that investigation, Shohei Ohtani is considered a victim of fraud and there is no evidence that he authorized betting with an illegal bookmaker. Further, the investigation did not find any betting on baseball by Mr. Mizuhara.

“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.”

Would there be any basis to discipline Ohtani?

Based on the complaint, and on the press conference that accompanied its filing, there would not appear to be any such grounds.

“Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case,” U.S. Attorney E. Martin Estrada said.

Mizuhara lost $40 million on a total of about 19,000 bets between December 2021 and January 2024, according to the complaint. The records, the complaint said, “do not reflect any bets on baseball games.”

MGM, DraftKings and Fan Duel “found records and a history of gambling for Mizuhara, but found no records for (Ohtani).”

How did federal investigators access information from Mizuhara?

On March 21, as the Dodgers returned from their season-opening series in South Korea, federal agents “intercepted Mizuhara at the Los Angeles International Airport … and seized the Mizuhara phone,” according to the complaint.

“Mizuhara subsequently signed a consent form consenting to the search of the Mizuhara phone,” the complaint read.

 

Did Ohtani cooperate with federal investigators?

“Fully and completely,” Estrada said.

In addition to allowing a search of his phone, Ohtani met with investigators on April 2 and 3, according to the complaint.

The Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants on each of those nights; Ohtani played in both games and hit a home run in the second game.

Can Ohtani put it behind him now, at least as far as the criminal investigation goes?

Not necessarily. Officials said Thursday they expect Ohtani to “continue to cooperate,” which could be necessary as the criminal case proceeds. Mizuhara faces a maximum of 30 years in prison, although his cooperation in the investigation could significantly lighten a potential sentence in the event of a plea bargain. If the case proceeds to trial, Ohtani would be the star witness.

Didn’t Mizuhara say that Ohtani had agreed to cover his gambling losses?

He did, to ESPN. In an affidavit, IRS Special Agent Chris Seymour said, “I do not find Mizuhara’s statements to be credible.”

In reviewing some 9,700 pages of text messages between Ohtani and Mizuhara between 2020 and 2024, Seymour said a federal agent fluent in Japanese found “no discussion of sports betting” between Ohtani and Mizuhara.

Seymour also said he did not find it credible Ohtani would have been aware of Mizuhara’s gambling given that Mizuhara “falsely represented himself” as Ohtani on multiple occasions to gain access to a private Ohtani bank account, and given that Mizuhara paid off his debts from that account while depositing his winnings into an account of his own.

A private Ohtani bank account? What is that?

According to the complaint, Mizuhara was “the only signatory” on one of Ohtani’s bank accounts, which was the one used to funnel money to the bookmaker.

The complaint describes Mizuhara as Ohtani’s “de facto manager.”

When Ohtani’s agent asked about the account, Mizuhara said the account was “private” and Ohtani “did not want anyone else to monitor that account.” The agent told investigators he never confirmed that with Ohtani.

The agent also told a bookkeeper and financial adviser working on Ohtani’s behalf that they could not access the account because Ohtani wanted it to remain “private,” according to the complaint.

Was Ohtani ever in any danger?

On Nov. 17, 2023, the bookmaker messaged Mizuhara, concerned that he was not paying up.

“I don’t know why you’re not returning my calls,” the message said, according to the complaint.

“I’m here in Newport Beach and I see (Ohtani) walking his dog. I’m just gonna go up and talk to him and ask how I can get in touch with you since you’re not responding. Please call me back immediately.”

There is no evidence in the complaint that the bookmaker made contact directly with Ohtani.


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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