Shohei Ohtani says his interpreter stole money from his account and ‘told lies’

Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani spoke to the media on Monday for the first time since his former interpreter became wrapped up in an alleged sports gambling scandal.

Ippei Mizuhara, 39, was fired last week as Ohtani’s translator after attorneys for the Japanese phenom say he was the victim of a “massive theft.” The IRS is conducting a criminal investigation of Mizuhara and Major League Baseball is conducting its own internal probe.

“I’m very saddened and shocked that someone who I trusted has done this,” Ohtani said Monday.

The pitcher, appearing in a Dodgers sweatshirt and cap, expressed disappointment with his former interpreter, whom he blamed for the controversy that includes allegations Mizuhara stole money from Ohtani to place bets with a bookie.

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has told lies,” Ohtani said in Japanese with the help of a different interpreter.

He vowed that he did not bet on any sports, did not ask anyone to do it for him and said he “never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports.”

Mizuhara met Ohtani when he went to Japan to work as an interpreter for the Hokkaidō Nippon-Ham Fighters of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, reported. Ohtani had joined the team as a rookie in 2013.

When Ohtani, already on the rise as a coveted two-way player who excelled at pitching and hitting, signed with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, he brought Mizuhara along with him.

The scandal was first reported Wednesday by The Los Angeles Times and ESPN. According to ESPN, the interpreter’s firing came after questions from the media about his alleged ties to illegal gambling.

Shohei Ohtani and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara
Los Angeles Dodgers’ Shohei Ohtani and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara during a baseball news conference at Dodger Stadium on Dec. 14, 2023, in Los Angeles.Ashley Landis / AP file

The allegations against Mizuhara centered specifically on wire transfers from Ohtani’s account — totaling at least $4.5 million, made in at least nine payments of $500,000 — to a bookmaking operation in Southern California that is currently under federal investigation and which was allegedly run by Matthew Bowyer of Orange County, California, a person familiar with Ohtani and Mizuhara’s interactions told NBC News.

Bowyer’s attorney, Diane Bass, said Bowyer’s home was searched by Internal Revenue Service, Homeland Security, and FBI agents in October as part of an investigation. No charges have been filed, she said, and his team was negotiating with federal authorities regarding a possible outcome.

The person familiar with the interpreter’s interactions with Ohtani said at first Mizuhara told the pitcher’s representatives that he had been gambling and racked up a large amount of debt, prompting him to ask Ohtani to bail him out.

Mizuhara reportedly said at the time that Ohtani was upset and angry with him because the two-way star hates betting, but that he ultimately agreed to pay the debts as long as Mizuhara never gambled again, according to the person familiar.

As media inquiries rolled in, Mizuhara changed his story, the person said, and admitted to Ohtani’s agent and representatives that the original story was a lie.

Instead, Mizuhara said Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling or his debts. Mizuhara allegedly stole the massive sum from Ohtani, according to the source, authorizing the wire transfers from Ohtani’s account to the associate in the bookmaking operation over a period of time last year without Ohtani’s participation or knowledge.

The pitcher said Monday that he first learned of the situation during a team meeting in South Korea last week as the Dodgers opened the MLB season with a two-game series.

“I never agreed to pay off the debt or make payments to the bookmaker,” Ohtani said at the news conference, calling his Mizuhara a liar.

Mizuhara has not responded to past NBC News requests for comment.

Major League Baseball has opened an investigation of the matter. The Internal Revenue Service has confirmed that Mizuhara and Bowyer are under criminal investigation.

Bass said, “Boyer has never had any contact with Shohei Otani. He has never met him he has never spoken with him.”

She described Mizuhara as a bookmaking client of Bowyer’s for a two-year period that ended in 2024. “It was Matthew Bowyer’s understanding Mizuhara was his client, no one else,” Bass said.

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