Dodger superstar’s confidant pleaded guilty to stealing $17 million from the power hitter to cover debts
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Dodger superstar’s confidant pleaded guilty to stealing $17 million from the power hitter to cover debts

An interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges after secretly transferring about $17 million from the player’s account to pay off gambling debt.

Ippei Mizuhara incurred the debt through an illegal bookmaking operation, which Ohtani had no knowledge of, the US Justice Department said Wednesday. Mizuhara is expected to plead guilty to bank fraud and filing a false tax return in the coming weeks.

“He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit,” Martin Estrada, the US Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. 

The plea agreement comes as Ohtani, a rare combination of pitcher and hitter who signed a record $700 million contract with the Dodgers in December, has become a symbol of MLB’s efforts to expand its brand worldwide.

The Japanese wunderkid began playing in California in 2018 and relied on Mizuhara to act as his translator as his US career took off. Mizuhara, who was charged in April, was not only the 29-year-old’s interpreter but also a close friend and de facto manager, according to federal prosecutors. 

Mizuhara’s attorney, Michael Freedman, declined to comment. A spokesperson for the Dodgers did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Details of Mizuhara’s fraud were outlined on Wednesday as the Justice Department announced his plan to plead guilty. Mizuhara gained access to Ohtani’s bank account after helping him open an account at a branch in Phoenix in 2018. Mizuhara began placing bets with an illegal bookmaker from September 2021. Saddled with debt, he used Ohtani’s bank login details over the next two and a half years to gain unfettered access to his salary. 

He also changed the security protocols on Ohtani’s account so the bank would call Mizuhara to verify any wire transfers, according to prosecutors. 

The government says the interpreter siphoned almost $17 million from Ohtani’s accounts. He faces more than 30 years in prison.

Despite the distractions from the scandal, Ohtani is having a big season for the Dodgers, who are on top of the National League West. He’s leading the team in batting average, home runs and hits. 

An arm injury has prevented him from pitching this year. Before signing the deal with the Dodgers, he played six seasons for the Los Angeles Angels down the freeway in Anaheim. 

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