© 2024 KASU
Your Connection to Music, News, Arts and Views for 65 Years
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Prosecutors say ex-interpreter stole $16 million from baseball star Shohei Ohtani

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter and close friend is due in court today, after being charged with bank fraud.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Federal prosecutors say Ippei Mizuhara stole more than $16 million from Ohtani's bank account, all because he had run up massive gambling debt.

MARTÍNEZ: LAist reporter Yusra Farzan was at the news conference in Downtown Los Angeles, where prosecutors announced the charges yesterday. So tell us more about these charges. I mean, bank fraud is pretty serious stuff.

YUSRA FARZAN, BYLINE: Right. Bank fraud is a felony offense that can carry a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison. Federal prosecutors say Mizuhara illegally transferred money from Ohtani's bank account to bookies. They say he began gambling back in 2021, placing bets on sports, though not on baseball.

MARTÍNEZ: Right. But then he began losing all that money.

FARZAN: Yes. And according to the complaint, they say to pay off his debt, Mizuhara siphoned off more than $16 million from Ohtani's account. They also believe he spent about $325,000 of Ohtani's money on baseball cards purchased through websites like eBay and whatnot.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Ohtani and Mizuhara were friends, but how did Mizuhara get access to his account because I'm not sharing my account with my friends?

FARZAN: So when Ohtani moved to America from Japan to play professional baseball, he could not speak English, and prosecutors say that Mizuhara acted as his translator, but also his de facto manager. They say that Mizuhara helped Ohtani set up a bank account and that he later used that information to change the phone number and email address associated with the account. That's how they say he gained access to it. Here's one of the prosecutors, U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARTIN ESTRADA: We've obtained recordings of telephone calls in which Mizuhara spoke with bank employees, lied to them about being Mr. Ohtani, gave personal, biographical information for Mr. Ohtani in order to impersonate him and thereby convinced the bank to approve large wire transfers of large amounts of money to the bookmakers.

FARZAN: Estrada also said that Mizuhara blocked Ohtani's professional advisers - including his agent, accountant and financial adviser - from gaining access to the account. None of them speak Japanese. We did reach out to Mizuhara's attorney for comment, and he declined.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So now, for a big key part in this, what did Ohtani know or didn't know about all this?

FARZAN: Well, Ohtani has said publicly he was shocked by Mizuhara's actions and had nothing to do with them, and U.S. Attorney Estrada said yesterday that Ohtani is a victim in this case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ESTRADA: I want to be clear that Mr. Ohtani has cooperated fully and completely in this investigation. He's not only spoken to investigators. He's provided access to his digital devices, to his personal information, to ensure that justice was done in this case.

FARZAN: Estrada says that they've gone through years of communication between Ohtani and Mizuhara and that they haven't found any evidence that he knew about or was involved in Mizuhara's gambling. Major League Baseball had initially said they'd launched a probe into the gambling incident, but after Thursday's announcement, they said they'd wait until the criminal case is complete.

MARTÍNEZ: That's LAist reporter Yusra Farzan. Thank you very much.

FARZAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.