Ohtani says he never bet on sports, interpreter stole money, told lies

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INTERPRETER CAUGHT STEALING? — Then-Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani (L) with interpreter Ippei Mizuhara, who has since been fired by the Los Angeles Dodgers after allegations of theft. photo by Scott Nakajima Photography.

By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports WriterLOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani said March 25 he never bet on sports or knowingly paid any gambling debts accumulated by his longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara.

Instead, the Los Angeles Dodgers star claims his close friend lied to him for years and stole millions from the two-time MVP.

Ohtani gave his version of events during a news conference at Dodger Stadium, five days after Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers following reports from the Los Angeles Times and ESPN about his alleged ties to an illegal bookmaker and debts well over $1 million.

“I am very saddened and shocked someone whom I trusted has done this,” the Japanese star said while sitting next to Will Ireton, the team’s manager of performance operations, who translated.

“Ippei has been stealing money from my account and has been telling lies,” Ohtani said. “I never bet on sports or have willfully sent money to the bookmaker.”

Ohtani spoke for nearly 12 minutes in a small room packed with dozens of reporters, describing several ways in which Mizuhara deceived him. Wearing a Dodgers cap and sweatshirt, Ohtani read quickly in Japanese from a document and did not take questions.

Ohtani, 29, still attempted to answer the most important question by repeatedly emphasizing he was never knowingly involved in gambling. He provided no details on how Mizuhara might have been able to steal his money to pay gambling debts.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do it on my behalf, and I have never gone through a bookmaker to bet on sports and was never asked to assist betting payment for anyone else,” he said.

Ohtani left the Los Angeles Angels in December to sign a record $700 million, 10-year contract with the Dodgers. Ohtani and Mizuhara had been daily companions from Ohtani joining the Angels in 2018 until last week, when Mizuhara’s gambling became public.

Ohtani hasn’t addressed the Dodgers in a group since Mizuhara’s firing, but he had explained himself to several Dodgers individually, manager Dave Roberts said. Veterans Kiké Hernández and Joe Kelly attended Ohtani’s news conference to emphasize the players’ support of their new teammate.

“I think Shohei was very honest in his take of what happened,” Roberts said. “I know that for me, the organization, we support him. I got a lot of questions answered as far as what he knew, what he didn’t know, and I’m looking forward to kind of just moving forward, letting the authorities take care of it, and just focus on baseball. I was proud of him to sit up here and give his take on things.”

The IRS has confirmed that Mizuhara and Mathew Bowyer, the alleged illegal bookmaker, are under criminal investigation through the agency’s Los Angeles field office.

Mizuhara told ESPN on March 19 that Ohtani paid his gambling debts at the interpreter’s request, saying the 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.

ESPN said Mizuhara changed his story the following day, claiming Ohtani had no knowledge of the gambling debts and had not transferred any money to bookmakers. “All of this has been a complete lie,” Ohtani said. “Ippei obviously basically didn’t tell me about the media inquiry. So Ippei has been telling everyone around that he has been communicating with me on this account to the media and my team, and that hasn’t been true.”

Ohtani said he first became aware of Mizuhara’s gambling problem during a team meeting after March 20’s season-opening victory over San Diego in Seoul, South Korea. Ohtani said the meeting was a shock — and because Mizuhara was speaking to the team in English, Ohtani struggled to understand everything that was being said.

“Just prior to the meeting, I was told by Ippei, ‘Hey, let’s talk one to one in the hotel after the meeting,’” Ohtani said. “So up until that team meeting, I didn’t know that Ippei had a gambling addiction and was in debt. Obviously I never agreed to pay for the debt or make payments to the bookmaker, and finally when we went back to the hotel, that was when I found out that he had a massive debt, and it was revealed to me during that meeting that Ippei admitted that he was sending money using my account to the bookmaker. At that moment, it was an absurd thing that was happening and I contacted my representatives at that point.”

Ohtani spoke before the Dodgers lost 6-0 to the Angels in an exhibition game at Chavez Ravine.

Ohtani smiled and looked slightly shaken as he took first base — an appropriate cap to an uncomfortable day at the ballpark.

“To summarize how I am feeling right now, I am just beyond shocked,” Ohtani said. “It is really hard to verbalize how I am feeling at this point. The season is going to start, so I am going to let my lawyers handle matters from here on out. I am completely assisting in all investigations that are taking place right now.”

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