Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter fired amid gambling, theft allegations

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SEOUL — Hours after Shohei Ohtani made his highly anticipated Los Angeles Dodgers debut, the team fired his longtime interpreter as media reports surfaced alleging he stole millions from the MLB superstar to cover gambling debts. The allegations caused a stir from the United States to Seoul, where the Dodgers were opening the season with a global baseball spectacle and a celebration of the game and its brightest light.

The Dodgers, who remain in South Korea, confirmed in a statement that they had terminated Ippei Mizuhara, who has been Ohtani’s close friend and interpreter since before he joined the Los Angeles Angels in 2017. The team offered no further comment.

To what degree Mizuhara was involved and how much money was wagered remained unclear as of late Wednesday, but bombshell reports by the Los Angeles Times and ESPN noted Mizuhara’s name emerged in connection to a federal investigation of an alleged illegal bookmaker, Matthew Bowyer, leading Ohtani’s representatives to inquire about the nature of Mizuhara’s involvement. Bowyer declined to comment when reached by The Washington Post.

ESPN reported Wednesday that Mizuhara admitted in an interview to incurring massive gambling debts that Ohtani paid for him and that he insisted Ohtani was not doing any betting. Ohtani’s representatives alleged their client had been the target of theft, but they did not name the person they allege perpetrated it.

“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,” West Hollywood law firm Berk Brettler said in a statement.

Though sports betting is legal in 38 states, it is still outlawed in California. The offshore sports betting industry, which operates in a legal gray area and takes bets on credit, does billions of dollars in business each year — with shrouded ties to major figures in sports that are only now beginning to emerge. The Post reported last year that the clients of an indicted sports bookie, Wayne Nix, included LeBron James’s longtime manager, Maverick Carter. Former Dodgers star Yasiel Puig is awaiting trial on charges of lying to federal investigators about being a client of Nix’s operation. Puig’s admitted bookie in the scheme was a youth baseball coach who ran a Dodgers Training Academy in Hawaii.

The news came at what had been a moment of global glory for Ohtani, the Dodgers and MLB. The Dodgers opened their regular season to great fanfare in Seoul on Wednesday night against San Diego and seemed to be gaining unprecedented levels of international attention.

It was a shocking development because Ohtani and his tight inner circle maintained a flawless public image since he came to the United States. Mizuhara, who quit his job during the coronavirus pandemic when team employees were not allowed to interact with players so as to be able to maintain his friendship with Ohtani, was an endearing and omnipresent part of that narrative.

Mizuhara traveled to Seoul with the Dodgers, and he was seen in the team’s dugout talking to Ohtani during Wednesday’s game.

Ohtani became the highest-paid player in professional sports history when he signed a heavily deferred contract that will pay him the equivalent of $700 million for 10 seasons of service to the Dodgers. He also brings in more sponsorship money than anyone in baseball by a wide margin. According to a report this week by Sportico, Ohtani will rake in roughly $65 million in endorsements this season. The next-closest baseball player is Philadelphia Phillies star Bryce Harper, who will make $7 million.

The Dodgers and Padres will play again Thursday night in Seoul before flying home to open their stateside seasons next week.

Gus Garcia-Roberts contributed to this report.

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