MLB begins investigation into gambling allegations surrounding Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter Ippei Mizuhara

MLB began a formal investigation Friday of gambling allegations surrounding Ippei Mizuhara, the longtime interpreter of Shohei Ohtani, who was fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers this week amid conflicting stories about money paid for gambling debts.

Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office said in a statement that the league had begun its formal process through its investigations department. “Major League Baseball has been gathering information since we learned about the allegations,” from news reports, the statement said.

This chaotic story first became public on Wednesday evening, as Ohtani and the Dodgers – along with Mizuhara – were in Seoul for a series against the San Diego Padres to open the season.

ESPN reported that Ohtani’s lawyers alleged he was the victim of a “massive theft,” but only after both Mizuhara and a spokesperson for Ohtani initially claimed that Ohtani willingly paid off gambling losses of at least $4.5 million for Mizuhara.

Ohtani has not been accused of placing bets. A person briefed on the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Athletic on Friday that Ohtani was not being placed on leave given the circumstances as known when the investigation was launched.

Mizuhara, according to ESPN, said that he got in over his head and asked Ohtani for help paying off his debts, then worked with Ohtani to wire money to a bookmaker who had allowed the wagers to be placed on credit. But soon after Mizuhara spoke with ESPN, a spokesman for Ohtani recanted the account and said that Ohtani had not been aware of Mizuhara’s gambling activity.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the IRS was criminally investigating Mizuhara. And Ohtani’s representatives told ESPN that they had turned over the matter to law enforcement, but declined to say which agency.

ESPN published a timeline of its reporting on Friday, giving more detail to the changing accounts from Mizuhara, a spokesman for Ohtani and lawyers for the superstar.

A crisis communications specialist for Ohtani, who was not named by ESPN, told the outlet that Mizuhara had used his role as interpreter to control the communication to and from Ohtani, resulting in inconsistent accounts about the situation.

ESPN said it reached out to Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo, with evidence of Ohtani’s wire transfers on Monday afternoon (early Tuesday morning in Seoul). Within hours, the newly hired crisis communications manager responded to ESPN, and later stated that Ohtani had paid off Mizuhara’s gambling debts.

The spokesman provided ESPN with a quote by Ohtani: “Yeah, I sent several large payments. That’s the maximum amount I could send.”

Mizuhara told ESPN in an interview on Tuesday night that he met Mathew Bowyer, the bookmaker currently under federal investigation, at a San Diego poker game in 2021. David Fletcher, a Braves infielder who was teammates with Ohtani on the Los Angeles Angels, was in attendance.

Fletcher told ESPN that he had never bet with Bowyer, but that they had met once previously while playing golf. Bowyer was reportedly introduced to the game through a different acquaintance of Fletcher’s.

It was after this encounter, Mizuhara told ESPN, that he began betting with Bowyer. By the end of 2022, Mizuhara had lost $1 million, and was asking other people in his life for financial help. At the time, his yearly salary with the Angels was $85,000, he said.

“I couldn’t share this with Shohei. It was hard for me to make my ends meet. I was going paycheck to paycheck,” Mizuhara said. “Because I kind of had to keep up with his lifestyle. But at the same time, I didn’t want to tell him this.”

Mizuhara said he eventually went to Ohtani as his losses ballooned. Ohtani agreed to pay off the debts and neither of them considered whether their actions might be illegal as they worked together to send several wire transfers, ESPN said.

Following the Dodgers’ season opening win in Seoul, Mizuhara and team owner Mark Walter addressed the situation with the team before the news broke publicly. The Ohtani spokesman told ESPN that it was only at this moment that Ohtani realized something was amiss. Shortly thereafter, he allegedly realized money was missing from his bank account. Mizuhara was subsequently fired by the Dodgers.

Before his termination, Mizuhara told ESPN that he had lied in his initial interview. He stated that he was not being paid to take blame, and was changing his story free from duress. However, Mizuhara denied using his position as an interpreter to misrepresent communications to and from Ohtani.

Mizuhara said that he never bet on baseball, and that Ohtani was not involved in gambling.

“He sees that people, teammates would be gambling all the time, and he’ll be like, ‘Why are they doing this? Gambling is not good,’” Mizuhara told ESPN. “He would make comments like that. People would ask him to go to casinos on road trips, and he would never go. No, he’s not into it.”

The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya contributed to this report.

(Photo: Jung Yeon-je / AFP via Getty Images)