Ex-interpreter Ippei Mizuhara pleads not guilty in procedural move, plea deal still expected

Ippei Mizuhara, the former interpreter for Japanese baseball star Shohei Ohtani, leaves a federal court in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 14, 2024. REUTERS/Mike Blake

LOS ANGELES — Ippei Mizuhara pleaded not guilty to charges of bank and tax fraud Tuesday morning in federal court, a formality ahead of a plea deal negotiated with federal prosecutors, according to Mizuhara’s attorney, Michael Freedman. Mizuhara, an interpreter who took millions from baseball star Shohei Ohtani, is still expected to plead guilty at a later date.

A trial date was set for July 3, and a pre-trial hearing date for June 14. However, no trial is expected. Judge John Holcomb will preside.


Mizuhara waived a right to a grand jury indictment. The hearing lasted less than five minutes.

Mizuhara exited court in a suit, with no tie. He was stone-faced and didn’t say a word despite being hounded by a throng of cameras outside the courthouse. He rode down in the elevator with media members. Mizuhara then walked with his attorney to a black car that picked him up and drove off.

Freedman declined to comment and declined comment on Mizuhara’s behalf.

Mizuhara was charged with one count of bank fraud carrying a maximum sentence of 30 years, and one count of submitting a false tax return, which carries a maximum sentence of three years. The DOJ said in the plea agreement announced on May 8 that it would recommend a reduced sentence if Mizuhara “demonstrates an acceptance of responsibility.” The judge will ultimately make the final sentencing determination. The plea agreement states that it is expected Mizuhara will almost certainly be deported to Japan, where he was born.

Mizuhara, 39, was fired by the Dodgers on March 21 amid news reports that at least $4.5 million was wired from Ohtani’s accounts to an alleged illegal bookmaker, Mathew Bowyer. Ohtani accused Mizuhara of “massive theft,” alleging that Mizuhara had taken the money without his knowledge. Federal authorities charged Mizuhara with bank fraud on April 11, releasing a 37-page affidavit outlining how the former interpreter gained access to Ohtani’s accounts and used the money to “feed his insatiable appetite for illegal sports betting,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said. Ultimately, authorities said that Mizuhara took almost $17 million from Ohtani.

Mizuhara had worked for Ohtani dating to his arrival in the United States in 2018, when Ohtani hired Mizuhara as his de facto manager and interpreter, according to court documents. Their relationship spanned longer than that, as Mizuhara worked for the Nippon-Ham Fighters of NPB when Ohtani played professionally in Japan from 2013 to 2017.

The investigation unearthed no evidence that Ohtani teamed with Mizuhara to place bets, nor that Mizuhara had placed any bets on baseball, prosecutors said.

Media was not allowed in the courtroom Tuesday, a break from typical procedure. Court security said it was the magistrate judge’s decision. However, Judge Jean P. Rosenbluth said it was not her decision, and cited court security. “I apologize,” the judge said. “I was a reporter myself for the Los Angeles Times.”

The Associated Press collected signatures for a petition to allow the public in the courtroom.

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