Ohtani interpreter released after first court hearing

Ohtani interpreter released after first court hearing


Mizuhara was led into dock in federal court building in Los Angeles with shackles around his ankles

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Los Angeles (AFP) – Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter was released on bond and ordered to undergo treatment for gambling addiction on Friday, after his first court appearance since being accused of stealing $16 million from the Japanese baseball star to cover illegal betting losses.

Ippei Mizuhara was led into the dock in the federal court building in Los Angeles with shackles around his ankles for a brief hearing before US Magistrate Maria Audero.

The 39-year-old's court appearance came a day after he was charged with bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors say Mizuhara pilfered millions from the bank account of Los Angeles Dodgers ace Ohtani to fund an "insatiable appetite" for gambling.

Mizuhara barely spoke during Friday's hearing, only saying "Yes" when asked if he understood the charges against him before nodding to agree to the terms of his release.

Audero said Mizuhara could be released on a $25,000 bond and set a formal arraignment hearing for May 9.

The judge ordered Mizuhara not to travel outside the region or have any contact with Ohtani. Mizuhara had already surrendered his passport, defense attorney Michael Freedman said.

He was also ordered not to engage in any form of gambling, and was instructed to begin treatment for gambling addiction -- something Freedman said his client "fully intends to do."

The New York Times reported this week that Mizuhara was in negotiations with federal prosecutors over a possible plea deal in connection with the case.

Following Friday's hearing, Freedman issued a statement on Mizuhara's behalf in which he apologized and indicated a desire to reach a swift resolution to the case.

"He wishes to apologize to Mr. Ohtani, the Dodgers, Major League Baseball, and his family," Freedman said in the statement issued on Mizuhara's behalf.

"He is continuing to cooperate with the legal process and is hopeful that he can reach an agreement with the government to resolve this case as quickly as possible so that he can take responsibility."

On Thursday, US Attorney Martin Estrada told a packed press conference that Mizuhara had exploited his position as Ohtani's "de facto manager" to raid his bank account.

"Mizuhara used and abused that position of trust in order to plunder Mr. Ohtani's bank account to feed his insatiable appetite for illegal sports betting."

Multi-million-dollar losses

Ohtani, currently the biggest star in baseball, joined the Dodgers last December in a record-breaking $700 million deal -- the richest contract in North American sports history.

A criminal complaint detailing allegations of bank fraud against Mizuhara said the translator -- Ohtani's long-time friend and confidant -- transferred more than $16 million from the baseball star's bank account "to pay off his own substantial gambling debts incurred with an illegal bookmaking operation."

Allegations against Mizuhara have detailed a jaw-dropping scale of illegal gambling involving hundreds of millions of dollars.

Between December 2021 and January 2024, Mizuhara is alleged to have placed approximately 19,000 bets at an average of around $12,800 per bet.

During that period, Mizuhara had winning bets worth $142.3 million, and losing bets of $182.9 million -- leaving him with losses of roughly $40.7 million.

Estrada said there was no evidence to suggest Ohtani was aware of or involved in Mizuhara's illegal gambling activity.

Major League Baseball's gambling policy bars "any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee" from betting on baseball or making illegal bets on any other sport.

Players found guilty of betting on a game they were involved in are subject to life bans, with one-year suspensions if they are found to have gambled on games they are not directly involved in.

Ohtani is a rarity in baseball in that he combines elite level pitching and hitting ability, making him a generational talent who has been portrayed as a modern-day version of Babe Ruth.

Those skills and his clean-cut image have made him the global face of baseball.