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Ohtani’s Ex-Interpreter Pleads Not Guilty In Procedural Move; Deal Still Expected


Although Ippei Mizuhara entered a plea of not guilty on Tuesday in a procedural move, the former interpreter of Shohei Ohtani is still expected to cooperate with prosecutors in a plea agreement on federal bank fraud charges.

Mizuhara, the disgraced ex-interpreter of Ohtani, is accused of embezzling approximately $17 million from the MLB star to recoup a massive gambling debt. Following a brief hearing, Mizuhara declined to speak with a large contingent of reporters outside a Los Angeles courtroom.

The former Ohtani confidant is scheduled to go on trial July 3, with a pre-trial hearing set for June 14. However, it is widely believed that Mizuhara will plead guilty beforehand. Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Mizuhara will agree to plead guilty to two federal charges — one count of bank fraud and one count of filing a false tax return.

A media circus

Mizuhara made the not guilty plea before Magistrate Jean P. Rosenbluth inside a courtroom at the Roybal Federal Building. Due to the intense scrutiny of the case, reporters were not allowed to enter the courtroom. Rosenbluth, a former reporter, apologized to the media for moving the press to an auxiliary room inside the building. Mizuhara waived his right for a grand jury indictment.

Outside the courthouse, he was greeted by more than 40 media members who sought to receive his first comments since the case broke in March. Mizuhara was quickly whisked past the media scrum and into a black vehicle outside the building. Michael Freedman, Mizuhara’s attorney, declined comment.

During a three-year period through January, Mizuhara allegedly placed more than 19,000 bets with a California illegal sports betting ring, according to court filings. The wagers, according to a federal complaint, ranged from $10 to $160,000 per bet. Despite accumulating winning bets of around $142.3 million, Mizuhara also incurred losses of approximately $182.9 million, the complaint reads.

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The bets were reportedly placed through an illegal operation run by bookmaker Matthew Bowyer. As of Wednesday morning, Bowyer has not been indicted in the case.

A reputed whale player, according to an industry expert, Bowyer is well-known in Las Vegas sports betting circles. Bowyer also runs one of the nation’s largest bookmaking operations, multiple sources told Sports Handle.

Mizuhara, meanwhile, allegedly stole millions from an Ohtani bank account to feed his gambling habit. Mizuhara first met Ohtani in 2013 when he served as a translator for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, a Japanese baseball team.

Besides working as his personal interpreter, Mizuhara became one of Ohtani’s closest friends since his arrival in the U.S. The son of a former chef, Mizuhara reportedly prepared meals for Ohtani on occasion.

Although sports betting is illegal in California, there is a fertile black market rife with illicit bookmakers. Bowyer and Mizuhara apparently first met at a Southern California poker room, according to media reports.

Next steps

At one point, Mizuhara purportedly sent a six-figure wire transfer to a Bowyer associate revealed last week as Ryan Boyajian, ESPN reported. Boyajian, a reality TV star, has been granted immunity in the case, according to ESPN. The transfers from Ohtani’s account allegedly were made from devices and IP addresses associated with Mizuhara, the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in an April statement.

“The extent of this defendant’s deception and theft is massive,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada in a press release last week. “He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit. My office is committed to vindicating victims throughout our community and ensuring that wrongdoers face justice.”

Mizuhara’s case has been reassigned from U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee to Judge John Holcomb. Last week, Gee sentenced former MGM Grand President Scott Sibella to one-year probation for failure to file a suspicious transaction report on a known illegal bookmaker.

Wayne Nix, the bookmaker in question, pleaded guilty in 2022 to federal tax evasion. Sibella’s conviction surrounds a $120,000 cash payment Nix made to an MGM Grand marker, according to court records.

John Spilotro, an attorney for Sibella, said last week that his client had no involvement with the bookmaking activities of Bowyer. But last month, a confidential source informed Sports Handle that an agent of Bowyer placed numerous wagers with the Nix sports betting ring.

A two-time American League MVP, Ohtani is arguably the most popular Major League Baseball player outside the U.S. During the offseason, he signed a 10-year, $700 million contract with the Dodgers, one that is the largest contract in pro sports history.

Ohtani has vehemently denied placing any wagers on baseball or knowingly funding Mizuhara’s wagering activities. There is no evidence to suggest that Ohtani had any knowledge of Mizuhara’s illegal gambling or the repayment of his debts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Mizuhara is facing a combined 33 years in prison on the charges. The single count of bank fraud carries a maximum sentence of 30 years.

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