IRS investigating Ohtani’s interpreter, alleged bookmaker 

Jeff Passan joins Jeff Blair to discuss the latest on the Shohei Ohtani interpreter betting scandal that led to his firing, what the MLB will do, and how long it may take.

SEOUL, South Korea — Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter is being criminally investigated by the IRS, and the attorney for his alleged bookmaker said Thursday that the ex-Los Angeles Dodgers employee placed bets on international soccer — but not baseball.

The IRS confirmed Thursday that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara and Mathew Bowyer, the alleged illegal bookmaker, are under criminal investigation through the agency’s Los Angeles Field Office. IRS Criminal Investigation spokesperson Scott Villiard said he could not provide additional details.

Mizuhara, 39, was fired by the Dodgers on Wednesday following reports from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN about his alleged ties to an illegal bookmaker and debts well over $1 million. The news broke hours after Ohtani’s anticipated debut with the Dodgers in South Korea, where Mizuhara was constantly by the $700 million megastar’s side.

“In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities,” Ohtani’s law firm, Berk Brettler LLP, said in a statement Wednesday. The firm declined further comment the next day.

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Sports gambling is illegal in California, even as 38 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of it. The Associated Press was unable to reach Mizuhara for comment. It was not clear if he had hired an attorney.

Diane Bass, Bowyer’s attorney, told the AP that Mizuhara was placing bets with Bowyer on international soccer, but not baseball.

“Mr. Bowyer never had any contact with Shohei Ohtani, in-person, on the phone, in any way,” she said Thursday. “The only person he had contact with was Ippei.”

Bass confirmed the criminal investigation into Bowyer and said his home was searched in October. No charges have been filed. Operating an unlicensed betting business is a federal crime.

“I have been in touch with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, trying to resolve the case,” she said.

Mizuhara is a familiar face to baseball fans as Ohtani’s constant companion, interpreting for him with the media and at other appearances since Ohtani came to the U.S. in 2017. He even served as Ohtani’s catcher during the Home Run Derby at the 2021 All-Star Game. When Ohtani left the Los Angeles Angels to sign a $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers in December, the club also hired Mizuhara.

The team was in Seoul this week as Ohtani made his Dodgers debut, and Mizuhara was in Los Angeles’ dugout Wednesday during its season-opening win over San Diego. The pair seemed to operating business through the end of Wednesday’s game. Mizuhara was not with the team on Thursday.

The Dodgers said in a statement they were “aware of media reports and are gathering information.

“The team can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated,” the statement said. “The team has no further comment at this time.”

Ohtani was in the lineup for the second game of the series Thursday, hitting a single in the first inning as the Dodgers’ designated hitter. The Dodgers lost 15-11.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts confirmed Mizuhara had a meeting with the team on Wednesday but declined to elaborate. He said he did not know Mizuhara’s whereabouts and said a different interpreter was being used.

“Anything with that meeting, I can’t comment,” Roberts said, adding that “Shohei’s ready. I know that he’s preparing.”

Will Ireton, the Dodgers’ manager of performance operations, went to the mound in the first inning to translate for pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Ireton was Kenta Maeda’s translator with the team from 2016-18.

Security at the Gocheok Sky Dome was stepped up Thursday, with police and dogs checking the hallways hours before the game started.

The Ohtani interpreter news came a day after a reported bomb threat against Ohtani. Police said they found no explosives.

On Tuesday, Mizuhara told ESPN his bets were on international soccer, the NBA, the NFL and college football. MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering — even legally on baseball — and also ban betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

“I never bet on baseball,” Mizuhara told ESPN. “That’s 100%. I knew that rule … We have a meeting about that in spring training.”

Mizuhara was seen regularly chatting with Ohtani during Wednesday’s game, seemingly discussing his plate appearances over a tablet computer.

Mizuhara was born in Japan and moved to the Los Angeles area in 1991 so his father could work as a chef. He attended Diamond Bar High School in eastern Los Angeles County and graduated from the University of California, Riverside, in 2007.

After college, Mizuhara was hired by the Boston Red Sox as an interpreter for Japanese pitcher Hideki Okajima. In 2013, he returned to Japan to translate for English-speaking players on the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. That’s where he first met Ohtani, who joined the team that same year.

After Ohtani signed with the Angels in 2017, the team hired Mizuhara to work as his personal interpreter. ESPN said Mizuhara told the outlet this week he has been paid between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.

ESPN said it spoke to Mizuhara on Tuesday night, at which point the interpreter said Ohtani had paid his gambling debts at Mizuhara’s request. After the statement from Ohtani’s attorneys saying the player was a victim of theft, ESPN says Mizuhara changed his story Wednesday and claimed Ohtani had no knowledge of the gambling debts and had not transferred any money to bookmakers.

Mizuhara said he incurred more than $1 million in debt by the end of 2022 and his losses increased from there.

“I’m terrible (at gambling). Never going to do it again. Never won any money,” Mizuhara said. “I mean, I dug myself a hole and it kept on getting bigger, and it meant I had to bet bigger to get out of it and just kept on losing. It’s like a snowball effect.”

It would be the biggest gambling scandal for baseball since Pete Rose agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 after an investigation for MLB by lawyer John Dowd found Rose placed numerous bets on the Cincinnati Reds to win from 1985-87 while playing for and managing the team.

The MLB gambling policy is posted in every locker room. Betting on baseball is punishable with a one-year ban from the sport. The penalty for betting on other sports illegally is at the commissioner’s discretion.

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