Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter fired following ‘massive theft’ allegations tied to gambling: What we know

Written by on March 21, 2024

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(LOS ANGELES) — Shohei Ohtani is used to being under the microscope due to his unparalleled success on the baseball field, but the slugger is now embroiled in a scandal involving his interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.

It was revealed on Wednesday that Mizuhara had been fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers — the team with which Ohtani signed a record $700 million contract this offseason — after allegations of a “massive theft” tied to gambling debts to a Southern California bookmaking operation that is under federal investigation, multiple sources told ESPN.

In an ESPN interview scheduled through Ohtani’s spokesperson Tuesday night, Mizuhara initially said Ohtani had agreed to pay off his interpreter and friend’s gambling debts. But a day later, the spokesperson disavowed Mizuhara’s claim and would issue a statement claiming Ohtani had been the victim of “massive theft.”

Mizuhara said Ohtani was never aware of his gambling and was not involved.

“I want everyone to know Shohei had zero involvement in betting,” he told ESPN. “I want people to know I did not know this was illegal. I learned my lesson the hard way. I will never do sports betting ever again.”

Here’s what we know about the situation:

Why was Ippei Mizuhara fired by the Dodgers?

Mizuhara, who came over to work with the Dodgers as Ohtani’s interpreter after serving in the same capacity with the Los Angeles Angels, was fired on Wednesday, according to a brief statement from the team.

“The Dodgers are aware of media reports and are gathering information,” the team said in a statement. “The team can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated. The team has no further comment at this time.”

Berk Brettler LLP, a law firm that represents Ohtani, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon, “In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities.”

The statement did not specify who stole the funds from Ohtani and the Dodgers did not give an official reason for the firing.

However, according to ESPN, Mizuhara lost his job when reporters began asking questions surrounding at least $4.5 million in wire transfers from Ohtani’s bank account to an illegal bookmaking operation allegedly run by Matthew Bowyer.

Ohtani’s name appeared on two $500,000 payments sent in September and October, according to bank information reviewed by ESPN.

Who is Matthew Bowyer and how does he play a role?

Bowyer allegedly ran an illegal bookmaking operation in Southern California with which Mizuhara placed bets starting in 2021, the interpreter told ESPN. Bowyer, however, has not been charged with any crimes.

“I’m terrible [at gambling]. Never going to do it again. Never won any money,” Mizuhara told ESPN. “I mean, I dug myself a hole and it kept on getting bigger, and it meant I had to bet bigger to get out of it and just kept on losing. It’s like a snowball effect.”

Bowyer’s home was raided last October in connection with a federal investigation into the gambling operation, according to multiple sources and documents reviewed by ESPN.

Bowyer’s attorney told ESPN that Bowyer never “met or spoke” to Ohtani and only had a relationship with Mizuhara. She told ESPN she would not answer any other questions.

ABC News has reached out to Bowyer’s lawyer about the accusation made by Mizuhara that he placed illegal bets with him.

Mizuhara also told ESPN that he never gambled on baseball. He said he mainly gambled on international soccer games, the NFL, NBA and college football.

Is gambling illegal in California and can MLB employees gamble?

Sports gambling is legal in 38 states and Washington, D.C., but it is not legal in California, according to the National Gaming Association.

However, in other states where it is legal, it is only allowed through approved retail or online sportsbooks — none of which accept gambling on credit as Mizuhara is alleged to have done. Mizuhara told ESPN that he did not realize gambling through Bowyer was considered illegal, and he had previously gambled on legal betting apps in other states.

MLB does allow employees to bet legally on sports other than baseball.

If a player, umpire or club or league employee bets on a baseball game other than one they are involved in, they would be subject to a one-year suspension, according to MLB’s Rule 21(d) on misconduct. If they were to bet on a game in which they were involved, they would be declared permanently ineligible.

Cincinnati legend Pete Rose was infamously banned permanently for his betting on baseball, including games in which he was manager.

The rules are a little less specific on illegal gambling and don’t specify whether baseball gambling has to be involved.

According to Rule 21, “Any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee who places bets with illegal book makers, or agents for illegal book makers, shall be subject to such penalty as the Commissioner deems appropriate in light of the facts and circumstances of the conduct.”

Will Shohei Ohtani receive any punishment?

There are no implications from anyone that Ohtani was involved in the alleged gambling, and thus there are no indications there will be any ramifications. Mizuhara has been steadfast in saying the baseball star was not involved in the gambling and Bowyer’s attorney said Bowyer had no contact with the player.

Ohtani played for the Dodgers in their second game of the season Thursday — which was played in South Korea — and went 1-for-5 in a 15-11 loss to San Diego.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was asked about Mizuhara before the game, but he said he would not comment. When asked if it could be a distraction for Ohtani, he told reporters, “Shohei is ready,” and said there was no consideration he wouldn’t play.

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