Baseball star Ohtani's ex-interpreter pleads guilty to bank fraud

SANTA ANA, California – Japanese baseball great Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter pleaded guilty on Tuesday to stealing nearly $17 million from the athlete’s bank account to pay off his own gambling debts, according to U.S. prosecutors.

Ippei Mizuhara, the onetime translator and de facto manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ power-hitting pitcher, pleaded guilty in a deal that had been announced last month, a U.S. Attorney spokesperson said. Sentencing will be on Oct. 25.

A 33-page record of the deal, in which Mizuhara, 39, agreed to plead guilty to one count of felony bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return, was previously filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

A federal bank fraud conviction carries a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, with the tax offense punishable by up to three years behind bars.

Mizuhara was accused of embezzling nearly $17 million from a bank account of Ohtani’s that Mizuhara had helped open in Phoenix in 2018, and transferring the funds without the ballplayer’s knowledge to an illegal bookmaking operation to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts.

The former interpreter’s lawyer declined to comment.

Announcing the original bank fraud charge on April 11, U.S. Attorney E. Martin Estrada stressed there was nothing to suggest wrongdoing by Ohtani, who signed a record $700 million, 10-year contract to join the Dodgers this season, becoming the highest paid player in Major League Baseball.

Ohtani, 29, whose talents as a slugger and a pitcher have earned him comparisons to Babe Ruth, has said he was an unwitting victim of theft and has never bet on baseball or knowingly paid a bookmaker.

According to prosecutors, Mizuhara began gambling with an illegal sports book in late 2021 and lost substantial sums.

To cover his debts, Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani over the phone on more than two dozen occasions to deceive bank employees into authorizing wire transfers from Ohtani’s account, prosecutors said.

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