Ohtani interpreter fired after allegedly stealing millions for illegal betting

Shohei Ohtani
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Shohei Ohtani‘s interpreter Ippei Mizuhara was fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers on Wednesday after he was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the player for the purposes of gambling.

The LA Times reported that Mizuhara allegedly used the stolen money to place bets with an illegal sportsbook, while ESPN suggested that the funds totaling at least $4.5 million were sent via wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank account to the Southern California sportsbook operations of L.A. resident Mathew Bowyer to cover his interpreter’s betting debt.

Bank information showed Ohtani’s name on two $500,000 payments marked as loans that were sent in September and October. A source told ESPN that Bowyer was aware of the name on the transfers but turned a blind eye as long as the payments arrived, although he allegedly allowed people to believe Ohtani was a client in order to boost business and his own profile.

Mizuhara told ESPN that Ohtani himself has “zero involvement” in betting and that the funds were to cover his own losses. The interpreter also said that after having previously placed bets with DraftKings, he had assumed that placing wagers through Bowyer’s operation were legal.

Sports betting remains illegal in California and Bowyer’s bookmaking operation is under federal investigation.

Ohtani signed a record 10-year, $700-million contract with the Dodgers in December after six years playing across the city with the L.A. Angels. He is the highest-paid player in North American sports history, although the vast majority of that money is deferred to be paid between 2034 and 2043. Meanwhile, Mizuhara confirmed to ESPN he has been paid between $300,000 and $500,000 annually by the Angels.

A statement from MLB given to The Athletic confirmed that Ohtani is not currently facing discipline from the league and he is not believed to be under active investigation by the league despite his name appearing on multiple wire transfers.

Conflicting statements

In an interview with ESPN on Tuesday night, Mizuhara said that he told Ohtani about his sports betting debts and that the star “wasn’t happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again.”

But the following day, the interpreter contradicted that by insisting that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling debts and had not transferred any money to Bowyer’s associate.

He also stressed that he never made any wagers on baseball, instead gambling mostly on international soccer and other sports including the NBA, the NFL and NCAA football. MLB players and employees are allowed to bet on other sports — as long as the sportsbook operation they use is legal in their jurisdiction.

Bowyer, the operator of the SoCal scheme, could now be facing potential felony charges. He previously had his home raided by federal authorities in October, where items such as casino chips, a money-counting machine, cash and luxury items were seized.

Illegal gambling and sports in LA

The allegations surrounding Ohtani’s interpreter are just the latest incidence of a prominent Los Angeles athlete being linked to illegal gambling.

In November 2022, former MLB star Yasiel Puig was charged with and pleaded guilty to lying to law enforcement officials about placing bets with an operation run by former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix. Nix was at the center of a federal money laundering and illegal gambling investigation that ultimately resulted in him pleading guilty to conspiring to operate an illegal sports betting business and filing a false tax return.

Nix’s operation was also found to have been used by Maverick Carter, LeBron James’s longtime manager and business partner.

Meanwhile, a more recent case involving Nix saw former MGM Resorts executive Scott Sibella plead guilty in January to allowing Nix to continue to gamble large amounts of money at MGM properties despite knowing that he was working as an illegal bookie.