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MLB superstar Ohtani’s former translator agrees to bank and tax fraud guilty plea deal

Shohei-Ohtani_Dodgers_at_Nationals_(53677092784)1aab
Shortly after MLB superstar Shohei Ohtani joined the Los Angeles Dodgers, a federal sports gambling scandal involving his now-former translator Ippei Mizuhara broke. This week, Mizuhara (below left), agreed to a plea deal. (Mizuhara photo by Moto "Club4AG" Miwa from USA - Angels vs Mariners 2019-6-8 Anaheim Stadium, CC BY 2.0. Ohtani photo by All-Pro Reels from District of Columbia, USA - Dodgers at Nationals, CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Sports and courts too often coincide outside the usual tennis venues.

Leagues are sued by competitors. Broadcasting rights battles are litigated. Players’ union grievances are heard by various judges. Individual players sometimes end up in legal trouble.

And sometimes, given the international reach of sports, players’ translators run afoul of the law. That’s the focus of the latest high-profile meeting of sports and courts.

In March, the man hired to help international superstar Shohei Ohtani maneuver more easily through the U.S. Major League Baseball world was accused of misappropriating more than $17 million of Ohtani’s dollars.

Then came the curveball. The quickly-fired translator, Ippei Mizuhara, allegedly lost lots of money illegally betting on sports, and used most of his employer’s money to pay off his bookie.

For a while, it looked like the case might drag well into the professional baseball season, keeping the public eye on the alleged crimes instead of the sport and global icon Ohtani’s performance on his new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But much to the relief of MLB, Ohtani, the Dodgers, and Ohtani’s former team, the Los Angeles (nee Anaheim) Angels, federal officials were able to make a case-ending play this week.

Plea deal reached: The Department of Justice (DoJ) announced on Wednesday, May 8, that the former translator has agreed to plead guilty to two federal charges in connection with Ohtani’s stolen millions that were used to cover Mizuhara’s gambling debts.

The official plea deal calls for the 39-year-old Japanese translator to admit to one count of bank fraud and one count of signing a false tax return.

Mizuhara’s arraignment is scheduled for May 14. His formal guilty plea to the two charges in United States District Court will come in a few weeks, according to DoJ officials. Mizuhara faces up to 33 years in federal prison for the two crimes.

“The extent of this defendant’s deception and theft is massive,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada in announcing the Mizuhara deal. “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.”

Millions temporarily lost in translation: Court documents allege that as part of his job duties, Mizuhara regularly interacted with Ohtani’s sports agents and financial advisors, who did not speak Japanese, on behalf of Ohtani, who did not speak English.

Although Mizuhara was an employee of the Los Angeles Angels MLB team, for whom Ohtani played from 2018 to 2023, and, later, the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom Ohtani has played since 2024, Ohtani paid him separately for the additional work of driving him to meetings and interpreting for non-baseball-related activities.

Among Mizuhara’s ancillary duties, according to federal officials, was helping Ohtani in 2018 open an account at a Phoenix bank into which Ohtani’s MLB salary was deposited. Prosecutors allege that Mizuhara then used the Ohtani’s account log-in info, which he learned during the account’s establishment, to cover losing bets that he had begun placing in September 2021 with an illegal bookmaker in Orange County.

Officials allege that from at least November 2021 to March 2024, Mizuhara used Ohtani’s password to successfully sign into the bank account and change the account’s security protocols without Ohtani’s knowledge or permission.

The key account alteration, allege prosecutors, was changing the registered email address and telephone number on the account so bank employees would call him, not Ohtani, when attempting to verify wire transfers from the account. Mizuhara also is accused of calling the bank and impersonating Ohtani approximately 24 times.

When Ohtani’s sports agent and financial advisors asked Mizuhara for access to the bank account, federal investigators allege that Mizuhara lied and said Ohtani did not want them to access the account because it was private.

“In fact, Mizuhara did not want them to know that he had been stealing from Ohtani and had fraudulently obtained more than $16,975,010 from him,” according to the plea deal statement.

In addition, the court records also allege that in 2023 Mizuhara sent $500,000 of Ohtani’s money to one of the bookmaker’s associates, and in a dental bill scheme got $60,000 from the baseball player directly and another $60,000 from Ohtani’s account.

In 2024, according to the court filings, Mizuhara purchased approximately $325,000 worth of baseball cards from online resellers using Ohtani’s bank account, allegedly intending to resell them later and keep those proceeds.

Alleged tax cheating, too: The bank fraud is the major charge, but Mizuhara faces a federal tax charge, too.

The plea agreement states that in February 2024 Mizuhara willfully filed a false individual federal income tax return for the tax year 2022. On that tax return, according to court documents, Mizuhara falsely claimed that his total taxable income for 2022 was $136,865 instead of the “substantially higher” real income amount.

Specifically, IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS CI) agents allege that Mizuhara “knowingly failed to report additional income of $4.1 million. The source of the unreported income was from his scheme to defraud the bank.”

That incorrect filing means he shorted the U.S. Treasury of approximately $1,149,400 in additional taxes for the tax year 2022, plus additional interest and penalties.

“Our joint investigation with Homeland Security Investigations clearly showed Mr. Mizuhara not only stole from Mr. Ohtani, but also that he lied to the IRS about his income,” said Tyler Hatcher, IRS CI Special Agent in Charge at the Los Angeles Field Office.

“Mr. Mizuhara exploited his relationship with Mr. Ohtani to bankroll his own irresponsibility. In cases where we are able to identify them, we make every effort to make things right for victims, and this is one of those cases,” added Hatcher.

Tax Felon Friday: When Mizuhara’s charges are officially adjudicated by his plea, I’ll update this post.

In the meantime, if you want to catch up on all sorts of tax miscreants, the ol' blogs' special Tax Felon Friday page is a good place to start.

And if you want more tax crime posts, notably those that were published long before I gave them a special end-of-week feature, you can peruse, what else, the tax crimes category. You'll find this post at the top of that collection right now, so just scroll down for more.

You also might find these items of interest:

 

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