Shohei Ohtani’s ex-interpreter likely to plead not guilty to bank and tax fraud

The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani is expected to plead not guilty Tuesday to bank and tax fraud, a formality ahead of a plea deal he’s negotiated with federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging sports betting case.

Prosecutors said Ippei Mizuhara allegedly stole nearly $17 million from Ohtani to pay off sports gambling debts during a years-long scheme, at times impersonating the Japanese baseball player to bankers, and exploited their personal and professional relationship. Mizuhara signed a plea agreement that detailed the allegations on May 5, and prosecutors announced it several days later.

Mizuhara’s arraignment in federal court in Los Angeles is set for Tuesday, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth will ask him to enter a plea to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return. The expected not guilty plea is a procedural step as the case continues, even though he has already agreed to a plea deal. He is expected to plead guilty at a later date.

There was no evidence Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara’s gambling, and the player is cooperating with investigators, authorities said.

The court appearance comes after Ohtani’s back tightness forced him to leave a Saturday night game against the San Diego Padres. While he sat out Sunday’s game as well as a precaution, he’s having an outstanding season, hitting 11 home runs with a .354 batting average. Ohtani returned to the lineup Monday and had two hits in the Dodgers’ 6-4 win over the San Francisco Giants.

Mizuhara’s plea agreement says he will be required to pay Ohtani restitution that could total nearly $17 million, as well as more than $1 million to the IRS. Those amounts could change prior to sentencing. The bank fraud charge carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, and the false tax return charge carries a sentence of up to three years in federal prison.

Mizuhara’s winning bets totaled over $142 million, which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani’s. But his losing bets were around $183 million, a net loss of nearly $41 million. He did not wager on baseball.

He has been free on an unsecured $25,000 bond, colloquially known as a signature bond, meaning he did not have to put up any cash or collateral to be freed. If he violates the bond conditions — which include a requirement to undergo gambling addiction treatment — he will be on the hook for $25,000.

The Los Angeles Times and ESPN broke the news of the prosecution in late March, prompting the Dodgers to fire the interpreter and the MLB to open its own investigation.

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MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering on baseball, even legally. MLB also bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Ohtani has sought to focus on the field as the case winds through the courts. Hours after his ex-interpreter first appeared in court in April, he hit his 175th home run in MLB — tying Hideki Matsui for the most by a Japan-born player — during the Dodgers’ 8-7 loss to the San Diego Padres in 11 innings.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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