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MLB Launches Investigation into Gambling Allegations Involving Shohei Ohtani's Interpreter

2024

Major League Baseball (MLB) has initiated a formal investigation into gambling allegations involving Ippei Mizuhara, the longtime interpreter for Shohei Ohtani, following Mizuhara's dismissal by the Los Angeles Dodgers amidst conflicting reports regarding money paid for gambling debts.

The investigation was confirmed by Commissioner Rob Manfred's office, which stated that MLB's investigations department had commenced its formal process. The league has been gathering information since learning about the allegations from news reports.

The saga unfolded publicly on Wednesday evening while Ohtani, the Dodgers, and Mizuhara were in Seoul for a series against the San Diego Padres to open the season. ESPN initially reported that Ohtani's lawyers claimed he was the victim of a "massive theft." However, conflicting accounts emerged, with Mizuhara and a spokesperson for Ohtani initially suggesting that Ohtani had willingly paid off gambling losses of at least $4.5 million for Mizuhara.

Despite these claims, Ohtani has not been accused of placing bets. A person familiar with the situation told The Athletic on Friday that Ohtani was not being placed on leave based on the circumstances known when the investigation began.

Mizuhara admitted to ESPN that he had asked Ohtani for help paying off his debts, claiming he had gotten in over his head. Mizuhara stated that he and Ohtani worked together to wire money to a bookmaker who had allowed the wagers to be placed on credit. However, a spokesperson for Ohtani later recanted this account, asserting that Ohtani had not been aware of Mizuhara's gambling activities.

The Associated Press reported on Friday that the IRS was criminally investigating Mizuhara. Ohtani's representatives informed ESPN that they had turned the matter over to law enforcement, though they did not specify which agency.

ESPN published a timeline detailing its reporting on the evolving accounts from Mizuhara, Ohtani's spokesperson, and the superstar's lawyers. A crisis communications specialist for Ohtani, unnamed in the report, claimed that Mizuhara had used his position as interpreter to control communication to and from Ohtani, leading to inconsistent accounts about the situation.

ESPN reached out to Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, with evidence of Ohtani's wire transfers on Monday afternoon. Within hours, a newly hired crisis communications manager responded to ESPN, asserting that Ohtani had paid off Mizuhara's gambling debts.

Mizuhara told ESPN in an interview that he met the bookmaker, Mathew Bowyer, at a San Diego poker game in 2021. David Fletcher,a Braves infielder and former teammate of Ohtani's, was present but denied ever betting with Bowyer.

Mizuhara explained that he began betting with Bowyer after their initial meeting. By the end of 2022, Mizuhara had lost $1 million and was seeking financial help from others. He eventually approached Ohtani, who agreed to pay off the debts, and the pair worked together to send several wire transfers.

After the Dodgers' season-opening win in Seoul, Mizuhara and team owner Mark Walter addressed the situation with the team before it became public knowledge. At this point, Ohtani reportedly realized something was amiss and later discovered money missing from his bank account, leading to Mizuhara's dismissal.

Before his termination, Mizuhara admitted to ESPN that he had lied in his initial interview. He denied being paid to take the blame and claimed to be changing his story without coercion. However, Mizuhara denied using his position as an interpreter to misrepresent communications to and from Ohtani.

Mizuhara stated that he never bet on baseball and that Ohtani was not involved in gambling, noting that Ohtani disapproved of gambling and never participated when invited by teammates.

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