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MLB opens investigation into Shohei Ohtani interpreter allegations

MLB opens investigation into Shohei Ohtani interpreter allegations

MLB announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into the Shohei Ohtani interpreter scandal that rocked baseball this week.

The story broke Wednesday, when Ohtani's attorney released a statement accusing his longtime interpreter and friend, Ippei Mizuhara, of "massive theft." A subsequent ESPN report revealed that Ohtani's camp had told the outlet that the Los Angeles Dodgers superstar had agreed to pay off $4.5 million in gambling debts for Mizuhara, only for that camp to disavow Mizuhara on Wednesday.

Mizuhara gave a 90-minute interview to ESPN detailing how Ohtani supposedly paid off the gambling debt via wire transfer, which is a federal crime as well as a potential violation of MLB rules. He recanted that story Wednesday, insisting that Ohtani had no knowledge of his gambling.

The Dodgers quickly fired Mizuhara, who was working for the team during their series in South Korea as the story broke.

The full statement from MLB, which misspelled Mizuhara's surname and was released at 5:56 p.m. ET during the first round of March Madness:

“Major League Baseball has been gathering information since we learned about the allegations involving Shohei Ohtani and Ippei Mizuhari (sic) from the news media. Earlier today, our Department of Investigations (DOI) began their formal process investigating the matter.”

No mention was made of sidelining Ohtani, who made his Dodgers debut earlier this week and is set to play in the team's stateside opener on Thursday in Los Angeles.

MLB investigators will be tasked with sorting out a scandal that has seen multiple stories and conflicting narratives swirl around the new face of the league, who signed a $700 million contract with the Dodgers last offseason after winning his second career AL MVP award.

The IRS has also announced that it is investigating Mizuhara and Mathew Bowyer, the allegedly illegal bookmaker to whom Mizuhara was reportedly indebted.

Ohtani's camp reportedly requested that authorities investigate Mizuhara, but ESPN reported earlier Friday that neither the California Bureau of Investigation nor the FBI is currently working on the case, nor are law enforcement in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California reportedly declined comment.

The Shohei Ohtani interpreter scandal is still confusing

The unanswered questions and changing stories around Ohtani have caused widespread speculation over the past two days; even ESPN seems to be struggling to sort out how the facts have been reported to them from two continents.

The outlet published a timeline Friday of how it approached the story, but even that leaves plenty of uncertainty about how and why Ohtani's camp went about its response.

As ESPN tells it, the outlet contacted Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo, to ask about information it had found — namely, that Ohtani's name appeared on two wire transfers worth a total of $1 million that had emerged in a federal investigation of Bowyer's alleged illegal gambling operations. ESPN received a response 2.5 hours later from a recently hired crisis-communications spokesman.

Three more hours later, that spokesman reportedly said that Balelo approached Mizuhara and Ohtani, with the former "coming clean" about Ohtani covering his debts and the latter supposedly saying he had done so in $500,000 increments. Ohtani was quoted as saying, "Yeah, I sent several large payments. That's the maximum amount I could send."

Crucially, these questions were reportedly funneled to Ohtani through Mizuhara.

The first Mizuhara interview followed, in which he expanded on the story of Ohtani knowingly paying off his gambling debts. ESPN's timeline revealed some new details from that 90-minute conversation, such as Ohtani's former Los Angels Angels teammate David Fletcher, now a member of the Atlanta Braves, allegedly being present at the poker game at which Mizuhara allegedly met Bowyer.

A curious change was in the reporting around Mizuhara's salary. He was initially reported to have told ESPN that he made between $300,000 and $500,000 annually from the Angels and Dodgers, but Friday's timeline claims that he was making only $85,000 from the Angels when he met Bowyer in 2021:

"I couldn't share this with Shohei. It was hard for me to make my ends meet. I was going paycheck to paycheck," Mizuhara says. "Because I kind of had to keep up with his lifestyle. But at the same time, I didn't want to tell him this."

As for how he supposedly asked for Ohtani's help, he indicated that Ohtani had no idea it was to cover illegal gambling losses:

Asked if Ohtani knew the person owed the money was a bookie, Mizuhara says his friend "didn't have any clue."

"I just told him I need to send a wire to pay off the debt," Mizuhara says. "He didn't ask if it was illegal, didn't question me about that."

The excrement hit the fan Wednesday, immediately after the Dodgers' season-opening win against the San Diego Padres in South Korea.

Dodgers team owner Mark Walter reportedly told the players that a negative story was coming, Mizuhara told the room he has a gambling addiction, and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Ohtani had helped cover Mizuhara's losses.

The latter point was apparently news to Ohtani:

On the way back to the hotel, Ohtani starts asking questions about what had been said in the clubhouse, the Ohtani spokesman told ESPN, and that's when his representatives say Ohtani told them he didn't recognize Mizuhara's version of the events. According to the Dodgers official and Ohtani's spokesman, Ohtani's representatives had continued to rely on Mizuhara to communicate with Ohtani while they were dealing with the situation, and Mizuhara did not tell Ohtani what was happening.

According to the Ohtani spokesman, Ohtani discovers for the first time Wednesday that money is missing from his account.

Mizuhara was soon fired and later told ESPN he lied to Ohtani. However, he denied misinforming Ohtani while interpreting for him and declined to answer whether he took money from Ohtani's bank accounts without his knowledge.

Ohtani's ex-Angels teammates shocked, don't believe he would have bet on sports

This whole situation has been particularly surreal to Ohtani's former Angels teammates, with whom Mizuhara also worked.

As they told the Orange County Register's Jeff Fletcher, they don't seem to believe the so far unfounded theory that this has all been a cover story for Ohtani himself gambling:

“Weird,” said left-hander Patrick Sandoval, who had spent as much time with Ohtani as anyone over parts of the previous five seasons. “That’s all I can really say about it. Really weird.”

While players did not want to go on the record, speaking privately there was a consensus that Ohtani did not seem to show interest in other sports. That would seem to support Mizuhara’s assertion that he was betting for himself, rather than placing bets for Ohtani. Mizuhara reportedly also said that none of the bets were on baseball.

Mizuhara has repeatedly denied that Ohtani did any gambling — one of the few things that has stayed the same in his story. From ESPN:

Asked if he intended to pay back Ohtani, Mizuhara says he told his friend he would. He adds that Ohtani has never gambled and "thinks gambling is terrible."

"He sees that people, teammates would be gambling all the time, and he'll be like, 'Why are they doing this? Gambling is not good.' He would make comments like that. People would ask him to go to casinos on road trips, and he would never go. No, he's not into it."

Bowyer, the bookmaker involved, has also said he has never met or spoken with Ohtani.

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