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Mizuhara pleads not guilty in procedural step

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Published in Baseball
Wednesday, 15 May 2024 01:02

LOS ANGELES -- The former interpreter for Los Angeles Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani pleaded not guilty Tuesday to bank and tax fraud, a formality ahead of a plea deal he has negotiated with federal prosecutors in a wide-ranging sports betting case.

Prosecutors say Ippei Mizuhara stole nearly $17 million from the Ohtani to pay off sports gambling debts during a yearslong scheme, at times impersonating Ohtani to bankers, and exploited his personal and professional relationship with the two-way player. Mizuhara signed a plea agreement that detailed the allegations on May 5, and prosecutors announced it several days later.

During his arraignment Tuesday in federal court in Los Angeles, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth asked Mizuhara to enter a plea to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a false tax return. The expected not-guilty plea was a procedural step as the case moves forward, even though he has already agreed to the plea deal.

Defense attorney Michael G. Freedman said Mizuhara planned to plead guilty in the future. In the hallway before the hearing, Mizuhara's attorney said they would not comment Tuesday.

There was no evidence Ohtani was involved in or aware of Mizuhara's gambling, and the player is cooperating with investigators, authorities said.

Mizuhara's plea agreement says he will be required to pay Ohtani restitution that could total nearly $17 million, as well as more than $1 million to the IRS. Those amounts could change prior to sentencing. The bank fraud charge carries a maximum of 30 years in federal prison, and the false tax return charge carries a sentence of up to three years in federal prison.

Mizuhara's winning bets totaled over $142 million, which he deposited in his own bank account and not Ohtani's. But his losing bets were around $183 million, a net loss of nearly $41 million. He did not wager on baseball.

He has been free on an unsecured $25,000 bond, colloquially known as a signature bond, meaning he did not have to put up any cash or collateral to be freed. If he violates the bond conditions -- which include a requirement to undergo gambling addiction treatment -- he will be on the hook for $25,000.

The judge set a status conference for June 14.

MLB rules prohibit players and team employees from wagering on baseball, even legally. MLB also bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Ohtani has sought to focus on the field as the case winds through the courts. Hours after his former interpreter first appeared in court in April, he hit his 175th home run in MLB -- tying Hideki Matsui for the most by a Japan-born player -- during the Dodgers' 8-7 loss to the San Diego Padres in 11 innings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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