Thursday, June 13 2024

Over the past month or so, the world of baseball has been rumbling over the scandal around Shohei Ohtani and his fired former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. A lack of clarity has only increased the interest — and speculation.

The weeks of sometimes conflicting reports and unanswered questions created a hazy picture that was thrown into as sharp definition as possible Thursday, when the U.S. government released its criminal complaint against Mizuhara. Mizuhara is accused of stealing more than $16 million from the Los Angeles Dodgers star and faces up to 30 years in prison.

Those numbers are only the start of the wild allegations in the 37-page complaint against Mizuhara. Two things in particular stand out: the brazenness of Mizuhara’s alleged crimes and the degree of control he was given by the people who were supposed to look out for Ohtani.

Here are the five most surprising revelations from a case that will live on for decades in the weirdest annals of baseball history:

1. Ippei Mizuhara’s gambling losses totaled more than $40 million

This all started because ESPN obtained documentation of two $500,000 wire transfers from Ohtani to an associate of Mathew Bowyer, an allegedly illegal bookie under federal investigation. Mizuhara was initially accused of stealing a total of $4.5 million from Ohtani to pay off Bowyer.

The true number, as alleged by the feds, turned out to be $16 million. But that was only the start of how bad this all got for Mizuhara.

In total, Mizuhara is alleged to have made 19,000 wagers with Bowyer between December 2021 and January 2024, averaging out to nearly 25 bets per day. Bets allegedly ranged from $10 to $160,000, with an average amount of $12,800. Records reportedly show Mizuhara to have won a total of $142,256,769.74 … and lost a total of $182,935,206.68.

That equates to a net loss of $40,678,436.94.

The complaint contains texts between Mizuhara, Bowyer and other associates about all this gambling. The group frequently had to coordinate on wire transfers sent from a bank account owned by Ohtani, and there were also numerous requests from Mizuhara to “bump” his credit limit. It appears that Bowyer did so because he knew of Mizuhara’s connection to Ohtani and because Mizuhara would send $500,000 each week when he was in debt.

The complaint included this series of messages between the end of 2022 and the first half of 2023, including three in as many days:

Nov. 14: “I’m terrible at this sport betting thing huh? Lol . . . Any chance u can bump me again?? As you know, you don’t have to worry about me not paying!!”

Dec. 19: “Can u bump me last 200? I swear on my mom this will be the last ask before I pay it off once I get back to the states. Sorry for keep on asking. . . .”

June 22: “I got my ass kicked again lol . . . . Any chance I can get one last bump? This will be my last one for a while if I lose it. . . .”

June 23: “I’m the worst lol . . . can’t catch a break. . . . Can I get one last bump? I swear this is gonna be my last until I get the balance down significantly . . . . I promise this will be the last bump for a while.”

June 24: “I have a problem lol. . . . Can I get one last last last bump? This one is for real. . . . Last one for real[.]”

If you wanted to draft up a poster of what an unfettered gambling addiction looks like, you could do worse than just those texts.

FILE PHOTO: Dec 21, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers player Shohei Ohtani (right) and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara attend the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/FILE PHOTOFILE PHOTO: Dec 21, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers player Shohei Ohtani (right) and interpreter Ippei Mizuhara attend the game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/FILE PHOTO

Ippei Mizuhara faces up to 30 years in prison for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from Shohei Ohtani. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/FILE PHOTO)

2. Ippei Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani on the phone to hide alleged bank fraud

An enormous question looming as Ohtani’s camp accused Mizuhara of theft was “How could that amount of money go missing without anyone noticing?” As it turns out, the people hung up on that question were underestimating just how much control Mizuhara had over Ohtani’s finances — and the lengths to which he was willing to go to preserve it.

From the moment Ohtani landed in the U.S. with Mizuhara in tow, Mizuhara was his financial point person. In 2018 — likely during spring training, given that the pair were in Arizona — Mizuhara allegedly joined Ohtani at a bank branch and translated for him as Ohtani set up an account.

That was reportedly the account in which Ohtani’s salary from the Angels was deposited (Ohtani received $42,269,259 from the Angels during his tenure) and over which Mizuhara asserted total control.

Bank records reportedly show that the account was in Ohtani’s name, but the contact information connected to it was changed to Mizuhara’s phone number and an anonymous email address connected to Mizuhara. Transfers were allegedly made from the account using devices and IP addresses associated with Mizuhara.

Mizuhara allegedly went as far as pretending to be Ohtani when speaking with bank employees, according to calls recorded by the bank:

On or about February 2, 2022, MIZUHARA called Bank A, using the x0373 phone number associated with the MIZUHARA Phone, and attempted to access the x5848 Account to wire funds. During this call, MIZUHARA falsely identified himself as [Ohtani], and falsely stated that he was attempting to wire funds to BOOKMAKER 2 for a car loan. This request was unsuccessful, and Bank A froze online transactions for the x5848 Account.

On another call on the same day, a different Bank A employee spoke with MIZUHARA, using the x0373 phone number associated with the MIZUHARA Phone, regarding the suspension of online banking on the x5848 Account. During this call, MIZUHARA again falsely identified himself as [Ohtani], and responded to security challenge questions by giving the Bank A employee biographical information for [Ohtani]. As a result of this call, MIZUHARA was able to successfully lift the online banking suspension on the x5848 Account.

Mizuhara reportedly made his first deposit from Ohtani’s account on Nov. 15, 2021, in the amount of $40,010 to Xoom.com, a PayPal service.

3. Ippei Mizuhara used Ohtani’s money to buy $325K worth of baseball cards

Mizuhara allegedly used the vast majority of the money stolen from Ohtani to pay off his debts to Bowyer, but he was apparently working on a baseball card resale side hustle, too.

The feds allegedly found more than $325,000 in transactions on eBay and Whatnot involving the Ohtani bank account used by Mizuhara between January and March 2024. A member of the investigative team reportedly spoke with a club employee who said his team would set aside packages for Mizuhara that were received under an alias.

The investigator eventually procured some of those packages and found … around 1,000 baseball cards, including at least one for Ohtani:

Certain of these package had already been opened when I received them. Inside of these packages were baseball cards which appeared to be in protective cases for collecting.

With consent from MIZUHARA and his counsel, I have also taken possession of several additional briefcases and boxes that were found inside a vehicle used by MIZUHARA. Inside the briefcases and boxes were additional baseball cards, including cards for baseball players Yogi Berra, Juan Soto, and [Ohtani]. The Investigative Team is still attempting to inventory all of the baseball cards but I estimate that there were approximately 1,000 baseball cards in the briefcases and boxes.

The investigator concluded that Mizuhara purchased those cards to resell at a later date.

4. Ippei Mizuhara’s bookie followed Ohtani and his dog

It’s a famously bad idea to owe millions and millions of dollars to an illegal bookie for a variety of reasons.

In Mizuhara’s case, Bowyer apparently went as far as locating Ohtani while he was walking his dog, Dekopin, and threatening to approach him to get Mizuhara’s contact information:

On or about November 17, 2023, BOOKMAKER 1 messaged MIZUHARA stating, “Hey Ippie [sic], it’s 2 o’clock on Friday. I don’t know why you’re not returning my calls. I’m here in Newport Beach and I see [Ohtani] walking his dog. I’m just gonna go up and talk to him and ask how I can get in touch with you since you’re not responding? Please call me back immediately.”

There weren’t any overt threats included in the complaint, but messages such as this one from Bowyer don’t sound very friendly:

On or about January 6, 2024, BOOKMAKER 1 messaged MIZUHARA stating “you’re putting me in a position where this is going to get out of control. If I don’t hear from you by the end of the day today it’s gonna [sic] be out of my hands.” MIZUHARA responded the same day, stating “My bad man. . . . I just got back from Japan two days ago and I’m leaving tomorrow again . . . I’ll be back in mid January. To be honest with you, I’m really struggling right now and I need some time before I start to make payments.”

That would have been after Bowyer’s home was raided by the feds.

5. Ohtani’s agent talked to him only through Ippei Mizuhara

Let’s say you are a baseball agent who has a client who will someday sign a contract worth $700 million. Let’s say that client doesn’t speak English fluently and needs an interpreter to navigate life in the U.S. Let’s say that interpreter becomes the player’s de facto manager. Let’s say that interpreter tells you your client has a “private” bank account that not even the financial managers you hired can access. Let’s say that interpreter claims your client agreed to loan him millions of dollars to pay off an illegal gambling habit.

At what point would you start using a different interpreter to verify this information? If your answer is sometime before or during that final point, congratulations. You are more communicative than CAA’s Nez Balelo was with Ohtani.

Ohtani has claimed he knew nothing about the brewing scandal until Mizuhara stood up in front of the Dodgers and explained the supposed situation on March 20, 2024. Balelo’s camp had reportedly been interfacing with him only through Mizuhara, who allegedly used his position to lie about what was being said in both directions.

The complaint bears that out, with Balelo telling investigators that he does not employ any individuals who speak Japanese but will occasionally hire his own interpreters to communicate with clients. In Ohtani’s case, however, Balelo used only Mizuhara because he was always with Ohtani.

It appears that in their years-long history, Balelo has never actually talked to Ohtani without using Mizuhara as a go-between.

Ippei Mizuhara was the go-between for Shohei Ohtani and Nez Balelo. (Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Ippei Mizuhara was the go-between for Shohei Ohtani and Nez Balelo. (Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Ippei Mizuhara was the go-between for Shohei Ohtani and Nez Balelo. (Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Where it gets really wild, however, is in how many times Balelo explained to some justifiably confused financial managers that the Ohtani bank account controlled by Mizuhara was kosher.

For instance, when one professional bookkeeper had questions about this secret account:

J.C. was generally aware of the x5848 Account, but stated that he/she had never been given access to this account, and did not know its balance or have any insight into activity in this account.

J.C. was concerned that the lack of access to the x5848 Account created possible tax liability for [Ohtani] if the x5848 Account accrued unreported interest or was used to make gifts in amounts necessary to be reported to the IRS. When J.C. inquired with [Balelo] about gaining oversight over the x5848 Account for tax preparation purposes, [Balelo] informed J.C. that MIZUHARA had stated that [Ohtani] wanted the x5848 Account kept private and that he understood that the x5848 Account did not accrue interest or make gifts.

Or when a professional financial adviser retained by Balelo to handle Ohtani’s American portfolio wanted some basic information:

While B.L. oversaw most of [Ohtani]’s domestic accounts and investments, B.L. was never given access to or information about the x5848 Account.

B.L. asked [Balelo] for information about any funds held in the x5848 Account so that those funds could be considered in [Ohtani]’s overall investment profile, but [Balelo] informed B.L. that MIZUHARA had stated [Ohtani] considered the x5848 Account private and did not want anyone else to view that account.

An accountant retained by Balelo also reportedly wanted information on this account while figuring out Ohtani’s taxes and never got it. That accountant reportedly scheduled a meeting with Ohtani and Mizuhara, but only Mizuhara showed up, claiming that Ohtani was sick. When asked about the account, Mizuhara claimed that Ohtani wanted it private from everyone and indicated that it didn’t have any tax implications.

The account wound up having implications far beyond taxes.

Bonus: Mizuhara saw the writing on the wall

This whole thing came crashing down last month. Around the day Mizuhara was fired, he reportedly messaged Bowyer, who said he didn’t believe the claims that Mizuhara stole from Ohtani.

At that point, Mizuhara allegedly came clean:

On or about March 20, 2024, MIZUHARA messaged BOOKMAKER 1 stating, “Have you seen the reports?” BOOKMAKER 1 responded, “Yes, but that’s all bulls***. Obviously you didn’t steal from him. I understand it’s a cover job I totally get it.” MIZUHARA then responded to BOOKMAKER 1, “Technically I did steal from him. it’s all over for me.”

Source: Yahoo Sports

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