How a bankrupt bettor became the bookie at the center of an MLB scandal

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One day in 2019, sheriff’s deputies in Florida watched a man mail two packages at a FedEx store.

The officers were zeroing in on a crew of suspected bookies, including hardened veterans of the underground gambling world with connections to the Colombo crime family’s “South Florida Crew.”

The authorities intercepted the parcels, which each contained a Yahtzee board game box. One box contained $100,000 in rubber-band bundled cash, bound for an address in Texas. The other, which contained $108,000 in cash, was headed to the sprawling California home of a jujitsu studio operator and high-limit baccarat player banned from several casinos on the Las Vegas Strip. His name was Mathew Bowyer.

The Florida case would not result in charges. But it shed light on the secret profession of an obscure figure now at the center of one of the biggest sports-betting scandals in decades.

On Wednesday, Bowyer, 48, was thrust into the global spotlight amid a bizarre and explosive news story enveloping one of the best-known, highest-paid and — until this week — most scandal-free figures in sports, Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani.

ESPN and the Los Angeles Times, in dueling articles, reported that the Dodgers fired Ohtani’s interpreter and friend, Ippei Mizuhara, amid revelations that Ohtani, or an account in his name, wired Bowyer millions of dollars — ostensibly to pay off Mizuhara’s gambling debts. Ohtani signed a record-breaking $700 million contract last offseason, opting to defer $680 million of it until after the deal ends.

The allegations stemmed from bank records, cited by ESPN, that showed payments from Ohtani to Bowyer. Mizuhara initially told ESPN that Ohtani had knowingly paid off his gambling debts. But then Ohtani’s attorneys shifted, saying that the ballplayer was the victim of a “massive theft.” They have since said that they have reported the theft to law enforcement authorities, and the IRS confirmed Friday that its criminal field office in Los Angeles has opened an investigation involving Bowyer and Mizuhara.

In addition to the confusion of the conflicting stories, next to nothing has been reported about Bowyer except that he was a suspected bookie under federal investigation. Bowyer declined to comment when reached by The Washington Post.

In an interview, his attorney, Diane Bass, acknowledged that Bowyer was a bookie. She reiterated that it was the interpreter, not Ohtani, who placed the bets, despite the ballplayer’s name appearing on the bank records. Bass said that Bowyer did not have athlete clients that she was “aware of.”

“He never spoke with him, never met with him, never texted with him,” Bass said of Ohtani. “The only person he ever met with, spoke with, or texted with was Ippei.”

Mizuhara told ESPN that his losses were at least $4.5 million, but Bass would not confirm that amount. She said his proximity to Ohtani is what made Bowyer willing to keep floating Mizuhara as the debts reached into the millions. “Because he was his best friend,” Bass said when asked why Bowyer would extend that sort of credit to a professional interpreter, whose salary was reportedly less than six figures.

The Post used previously unreported law enforcement and court records and interviews to fill out the backstory of how a bankrupt gambler became intertwined with one of the richest athletes in sports history, rocking baseball as its season gets underway.

The fallout from the scandal, which unfolded while Ohtani’s Dodgers were in Seoul for a season-opening series meant to highlight baseball’s global reach, has put the sport at an uncomfortable crossroads. On Friday, MLB announced it had launched a formal investigation. Players and team employees are prohibited from betting on baseball and from placing any bets with illegal book makers.

For the broader American sports industry, whose embrace of betting has multiplied its cultural and economic might, the scandal offers yet another troubling glimpse into the underworld of illegal betting by major sports figures or those close to them.

The criminal investigation of Bowyer is a byproduct of a metastasizing federal probe into illegal betting. Former Dodgers star Yasiel Puig is awaiting trial for allegedly lying to federal agents about being a client of an illegal betting ring, whose agents included a youth baseball coach who ran a Dodgers Training Academy in Hawaii. The Post reported last year that Maverick Carter, LeBron James’s longtime business manager, also admitted to placing bets on the NBA with the same illegal operation. Carter was not a target of the probe and was not charged.

According to Bowyer’s attorney, prosecutors didn’t show interest in pursuing Ohtani’s role. Bass said that she called federal prosecutors in January after learning of Ohtani’s involvement from an ESPN reporter. “They were not the least bit interested,” Bass said.

Mizuhara was a “compulsive gambler,” Bass said; ESPN reported that Mizuhara said he met Bowyer playing poker in Southern California in 2021. Bowyer’s own history with gambling — and significant losses — dated from at least a decade earlier. When the Orange County, Calif., native filed for personal bankruptcy in 2011, he claimed to have lost $425,000 gambling in Las Vegas casinos over the previous two years.

The divorced father of four was a failed exterminator. After his company, Tapout Exterminators, went under, he became a commodities trader, earning roughly $5,400 per month, according to the bankruptcy records. But Bowyer had more than $2 million in liabilities, he claimed, including more than $500,000 in “personal loans” to three individuals.

Bowyer was in the midst of a years-long battle with Vegas casinos, the bankruptcy records and interviews show. He listed among his assets potential legal actions against two resorts, the Cosmopolitan and Aria, that had cleaned him out. Instead, Aria sued him, seeking $250,000 for an allegedly bounced check, records show. The suit was dismissed.

After the bankruptcy, Bowyer continued to wager big at casinos, court records show. In 2015, he applied for credit at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut and was extended $1.2 million to gamble with, according to a later lawsuit. The casino then sued him in tribal court for allegedly not paying it back, and in 2023 it was still trying to collect on the debt in Superior Court in Orange County.

Bowyer next played a cameo role in litigation over what the Federal Trade Commission has called “the largest overseas real estate investment scam the [agency] has ever targeted.”

The project, dubbed Sanctuary Belize, claimed it would “make the dream of property ownership in a Caribbean paradise an affordable reality for all.” But federal prosecutors alleged it was actually a massive real estate scam ripping off retirees.

In 2018, Bowyer invested $1 million in a company related to the scheme, court records show. That company was later accused by a court-appointed receiver of misappropriating investor funds in the Belize project to buy a 424-acre plot in the Bahamas.

As the case unfolded, Bowyer filed an affidavit claiming that his investment was solely a down payment on the Bahamas land and that he had no “investment, financial or any other relationship with the companies” behind the alleged Belize scam. But a federal judge ruled Bowyer’s affidavit was of “doubtful reliability.”

Bowyer was deposed in the FTC litigation, records show, but was not named as a civil defendant or charged. His lawyer in the matter, Steven Jay Katzman, said Bowyer was “not involved and not implicated” in the Belize scheme.

It’s unclear when Bowyer became a bookmaker. In 2019, he founded a company called Picks Enterprises, LLC, out of a lawyer’s office in Las Vegas, corporate records show. He was by then living in a sprawling Mediterranean-style home in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. He opened a nearby Brazilian jujitsu studio, called RYSK.

Also in 2019, the Florida deputies watched the suspected offshore bookie ship a Yahtzee box filled with $108,000 to Bowyer’s house. The man mailing the package was William Cascioli, an alleged bookie who Broward County, Fla., deputies claimed ran an offshore gambling operation. Cascioli took bets from clients himself, according to transcribed wiretap conversations, and also split profits with other bookies who directed their clients to use his account on bigbetcity.ag, an offshore website based in Antigua and Barbuda. (Cascioli did not respond to a request for comment.)

The Broward sheriff’s operation did not result in charges, and though Bowyer’s address was listed, he was not named in court records reviewed by The Post. The sheriff’s department attempted to seize more than $1.2 million in cash, casino chips and gold bars in the case, but an appellate court ordered the money be returned.

In Las Vegas, meanwhile, industry gossip circulated that Bowyer, a high-limit baccarat player, was a bookie on the side. He was banned from multiple casinos, according to Jennifer Belcastro, who had worked as a casino host catering to high rollers at various casinos. In order to prevent money laundering at the tables, casinos are under a similar obligation as banks to report suspicious activity, including customers using suspected illegal proceeds to wager.

Belcastro maintained, however, that she didn’t know about his real occupation. “I knew he bet sports,” Belcastro said. “I didn’t know he was a bookie.”

Bowyer’s rise as a bookie coincided with the spread of legal betting, led by companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2018. But the widespread adoption of legal sports betting hasn’t made a dent in the illegal industry, much of it based offshore, according to gaming lobbyists, who estimate the illegal handle to be $64 billion per year.

Illegal bookies offer credit, boutique promotions and, usually, discretion.

Bowyer’s latest legal trouble appears to have started with the downfall of another highflying Orange County bookie. Former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix — whose sports-betting clients included Carter, Puig and retired basketball legend Scottie Pippen — pleaded guilty to illegal bookmaking in 2022. At least 11 others tied to Nix’s betting ring have since been indicted.

Though most of those charged were bookies, one was a longtime casino executive who invited Nix into high-roller lairs despite knowing his true profession. It’s that executive’s case, interviews and records show, that put Bowyer in the feds’ crosshairs.

From 2017 through 2019, the executive, Scott Sibella, ran MGM Grand, before taking a top job at Resorts World Las Vegas. He pleaded guilty last December to violating money-laundering laws by allowing Nix to bet at MGM. MGM and the Cosmopolitan admitted that some of their casino hosts were aware that Bowyer was a bookie and agreed to forfeit $7.45 million.

By then, according to law enforcement records obtained by The Post, investigators had already zeroed in on Bowyer and his associates. In October, they executed search warrants seeking materials “that relate to the placement of gambling debts, claims for payment, customer lists, ledgers of wagers, and address books.”

In addition to Bowyer, investigators searched the property of Belcastro, the casino host. She said investigators suspected she knew about Bowyer’s bookie business because in 2022 she had emailed the compliance office at Resorts World Las Vegas, where she was a host, and asked it to lift its ban on Bowyer. The casino, at the time run by Sibella, briefly allowed Bowyer back, she said.

A spokesperson for Resorts World declined to comment.

When asked why she lobbied for Bowyer’s business, Belcastro said she knew him and his family for 11 years. “This is what my job is,” she said. Belcastro said Bowyer never mentioned Ohtani or his interpreter to her. Belcastro declined to share the email.

Belcastro said she cleared it all up with the feds, who scoured her phone and, according to her, found no evidence of wrongdoing. Belcastro said she is no longer in criminal jeopardy and is hoping to start hosting again at Resorts World, where she says she has been barred amid the federal investigation.

“I need to decompress from the drama department and just worry about Jennifer,” Belcastro said.

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