Ohtani says he never bet on sports, 'shocked' interpreter stole money

ByAlden Gonzalez ESPN logo
Tuesday, March 26, 2024

LOS ANGELES --Shohei Ohtani, intermittently reading off notes for close to 12 minutes from a packed Los Angeles Dodgers interview room Monday afternoon, said he has never gambled on sports and didn't instruct his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, to wire money from his account to pay a bookmaker. Mizuhara "has been stealing money from us and has told lies," Ohtani said while speaking through his new interpreter, Will Ireton, the Dodgers' manager of performance operations.

"On a personal note," Ohtani said, "I'm very sad and shocked that someone who I've trusted has done this."

Ohtani, speaking to more than 70 media members, had notes prepared in Japanese within a black folder that was open in front of him but read from it only occasionally. He did not take follow-up questions. Cameras were not allowed, but Ohtani's comments aired on MLB Network and the Dodgers' flagship station, SportsNet LA.

Several key members of the Dodgers -- including CEO Stan Kasten, chief marketing officer Lon Rosen, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, general manager Brandon Gomes, manager Dave Roberts, utility manEnrique Hernandezand relief pitcher Joe Kelly-- were in attendance while Ohtani spoke.

"I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do that on my behalf," Ohtani said through his new interpreter. "I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports. Up until a couple of days ago, I didn't know that this was happening."

Mizuhara, who came with Ohtani to the United States more than six years ago and became one of his closest friends, was fired by the Dodgers on Wednesday in the wake of media inquiries surrounding at least $4.5 million in wire transfers sent from Ohtani's bank account to a Southern California bookmaking operation that is under federal investigation.

Ohtani's camp initially said Ohtani transferred the funds to cover Mizuhara's debt and presented Mizuhara for an interview with ESPN on Tuesday night, during which he laid out the process in detail. The following day, a statement from Berk Brettler LLP, the law firm representing Ohtani in the matter, instead said the two-way star "has been the victim of massive theft." Mizuhara then told ESPN that Ohtani had no knowledge of his debt and that Ohtani had not transferred the money.

The Dodgers were opening their season in South Korea during that time, and Ohtani was ushered out of the clubhouse without addressing the media after the second and final game Thursday night.

Monday marked his first time addressing the matter.

Ohtani said media members reached out to "a representative in my camp inquiring about my potential involvement in this sports betting" last weekend but added that Mizuhara "never revealed to me that there was this media inquiry." Mizuhara initially told ESPN on Tuesday night that after Ohtani agreed to pay the debts, the two-way star logged into his own computer and sent eight or nine transactions, all in increments of $500,000, to a Southern California bookmaker named Mathew Bowyer over the course of several months last year, adding "loan" to the description field.

Ohtani said Monday that "all of this has been a complete lie."

"Ippei has been telling everybody around that he has been communicating with Shohei on this account," Ohtani said. "To my representatives, to the team -- and that hasn't been true."

The first time Ohtani learned about gambling, he said, was when Mizuhara addressed the Dodgers after their opening game in South Korea.

"During the team meeting, obviously Ippei was speaking English but I didn't have a translator by my side," Ohtani said. "But even with that, I kind of understood what was going on and started to feel there was something amiss. Prior to the meeting, I was told by Ippei, 'Let's talk one-on-one after the meeting in the hotel.' So I waited. So up until that team meeting, I didn't know Ippei had a gambling addiction and was in massive debt.

"And it was revealed to me in that meeting that Ippei admitted that he was sending money, using my account, to the bookmaker. At that moment, obviously it was an absurd thing that was happening, and I contacted my representatives at that point. When I finally was able to talk to my representatives, that's when my representatives found out Ippei had been lying the whole time. And that's when I began contacting the Dodgers and my lawyers. The Dodgers and the lawyers at that moment found out as well that they'd been lied to."

The IRS has confirmed that Mizuhara and Bowyer are under criminal investigation through the agency's Los Angeles field office, though a spokesperson declined to answer whether its probe was triggered by a request from Ohtani's representatives.

Ohtani has not been accused of gambling at any point, and none of the bets were believed to have been made on baseball -- a circumstance that could lead to a permanent ban from the sport. California is one of a dozen states that has not legalized sports betting, and illegal bookmakers operate outside gambling regulations even in states where it is legal.

Bowyer's home was raided by federal authorities in October amid an investigation by the same U.S. attorney's office handling a sprawling federal money laundering and illegal gambling case in Las Vegas that drew in former minor league baseball player and bookmaker Wayne Nix.

Major League Baseball announced Friday afternoon that its department of investigations also is formally looking into the matter. Ohtani, however, is expected to continue to play while the investigation unfolds. An MLB source told ESPN on Monday that MLB investigators have spoken with federal prosecutors and were told they are free to proceed without restrictions in their own investigation. MLB did not receive any information about the case and does not expect to until the investigation is concluded, the source said.

"I think Shohei was very honest in his take of what happened," Roberts, speaking postgame, said of Ohtani's comments. "For me, the organization, we support him. I got a lot of questions answered, as far as what he knew, what he didn't know, and I'm looking forward to kind of just moving forward and obviously letting the authorities take care of it and just focus on baseball. I was proud of him to sit up here and give his take on things."

Ohtani, who first got to know Mizuhara as a teenager playing for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in Japan, spent the first six years of his major league career with the Los Angeles Angels and became a transformative two-way player in the latter half of that stretch, winning the American League's Most Valuable Player Award unanimously in 2021 and 2023. He signed a record 10-year, $700 million contract with the cross-town Dodgers -- with $680 million deferred to the 10 years following that contract -- in December, even though Ohtani will serve only as a designated hitter this season.

Minutes after his statement, Ohtani, recovering from a second major elbow surgery, played light catch in left field as part of the early stages of a throwing progression that he hopes will allow him to resume his role as a two-way player in 2025. He then took his customary spot in the No. 2 spot of the Dodgers' batting order, between Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, for the second of three exhibition games before the team restarts its regular season against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday.

"To summarize how I'm feeling right now, I'm just beyond shocked," Ohtani said near the end of this statement, looking directly at the camera and seemingly coming close to getting emotional at some points. "It's really hard to verbalize how I'm feeling at this point. And the season is going to start so obviously I am going to let my lawyers handle this from here on out. And I am completely assisting in all investigations that are taking place right now.

"Now I'm looking forward to focusing on the season. I'm glad we had this opportunity to talk, and I'm sure there will be continuing investigations going forward."

Information from ESPN'sTisha Thompson, T.J. Quinn andPaula Lavignecontributed to this report.

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