Home > Sports betting > Ippei Mizuhara agrees to plead guilty in illegal sports betting case

Ippei Mizuhara agrees to plead guilty in illegal sports betting case

| By Jess Marquez
Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter Ippei Mizuhara Wednesday (8 May) agreed to plead guilty to two US federal charges--one count of bank fraud and one count of filing a false tax return--surrounding his theft of nearly $17m from the Japanese baseball star.

According to a US Attorney’s office press release, Mizuhara will plead guilty to both counts at a 14 May arraignment. The arraignment in US District Court for the Central District of California was initially scheduled for Thursday (9 May), but was postponed Wednesday (8 May).

The announcement of the plea deal came two hours ahead of Scott Sibella’s sentencing hearing. Sibella is the former Resorts World and MGM Grand executive who pled guilty in another tentacle of the federal investigation surrounding the Wayne Nix illegal gambling ring.

Mizuhara could face up to 33 years in prison for both charges in addition to fines up to $1.25m. The plea agreement said that prosecutors will advocate for a lesser sentence. By pleading, Mizuhara waives the right to an indictment.

Regardless of sentencing, Mizuhara will be required to pay $16,975,010 in restitution to Ohtani. That is how much he siphoned from Ohtani’s account from September 2021 to March 2024 to pay illegal gambling debts.

Mizuhara also used Ohtani’s money for other purposes. According to the Department of Justice press release, he paid for dental work and bought sports cards to resell.

US Attorney E. Martin Estrada called Mizuhara’s years-long fraud scheme “massive.” He said the interpreter “took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit.”

“Our joint investigation with Homeland Security Investigations clearly showed Mr. Mizuhara not only stole from Mr. Ohtani, but also that he lied to the IRS about his income,” Special Agent in Charge Tyler Hatcher, IRS Criminal Investigation, Los Angeles Field Office, said via press release. “Mr. Mizuhara exploited his relationship with Mr. Ohtani to bankroll his own irresponsibility.”

The illegal sports betting scheme was first reported March 20, and Mizuhara turned himself in to authorities April 12.

Mizuhara’s illegal sports betting escalated fast

Mizuhara had worked as Ohtani’s interpreter and de facto manager since the two-time MVP first joined the Los Angeles Angels in 2018.

He soon began to take over more personal tasks for Ohtani, including helping him set up a bank account in March 2018. Mizuhara later reset the personal information to his own to avoid scrutiny. He also wrongly told Ohtani’s manager and advisors that Ohtani had denied them access, according to an affidavit filed last month.

In September 2021, Mizuhara was introduced to an illegal bookmaker believed to be Mathew Bowyer at a poker game in San Diego. He quickly became deeply entrenched in illegal sports betting, and placed more than 19,000 wagers over the 30 months. His total winnings were $142.3m and his losses were $182.9m, meaning he lost $40.7m.

As his debts increased, Mizuhara wired funds from Ohtani’s account to that of an associate of Bowyer’s. ESPN Wednesday broke a story naming “The Real Housewives of Orange County” star Ryan Boyajian as the associate. Boyajian deposited funds in marker accounts at Resorts World Las Vegas and Pechanga Casino Resort in Temecula, Calif. Two men gambled with the money and cashed out the proceeds.

The scheme was uncovered when the transfers from Ohtani’s account were found by federal authorities investigating Bowyer. Bowyer is connected to a larger illegal sports betting ring led by Nix. He has not been named in any indictments made public so far.

Nix is currently awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled for Sept. 25.

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