April 18, 2024

Representatives of Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani on Wednesday accused his interpreter of engaging in a “massive theft” of the ballplayer’s funds to place bets with an allegedly illegal bookmaker who is the target of a federal investigation.

Lawyers for Ohtani made that claim after The Times learned that Ohtani’s name had surfaced in the investigation of Mathew Bowyer, an Orange County resident. Ohtani’s representatives looked into the actions of the interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, in response to The Times’ queries, a source close to the matter said. Two sources told the newspaper that the money involved was in the millions of dollars.

In a statement, the West Hollywood law firm Berk Brettler said, “In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft and we are turning the matter over to the authorities.”

Attempts to reach Mizuhara were unsuccessful. Mizuhara placed bets with Bowyer, according to the sources, who requested anonymity to share sensitive information.

Ohtani, a global sensation who signed a record 10-year, $700-million contract with the Dodgers in December after playing six years with the Angels, could not be reached for comment. He is with the Dodgers in Seoul for a season-opening series against the San Diego Padres.

Major League Baseball has not been contacted by prosecutors, a spokesman said.

Bowyer has not been charged with a crime, his attorney, Irvine-based Diane Bass, said. Federal agents raided Bowyer’s San Juan Capistrano home last year as part of the investigation.

Bass told The Times that Bowyer never had contact with Ohtani. “Mathew Bowyer never met, spoke with, or texted, or had contact in any way with Shohei Ohtani,” she said.

The U.S. attorney’s office in L.A., which is overseeing the investigation, did not respond to requests for comment.

MLB gambling policy prohibits “any player, umpire, or Club or League official or employee” from betting on the game or making illegal bets on other sports. The punishment for gambling with an illegal bookmaker or their agent isn’t specified in MLB rules, but is left up to “such penalty as the Commissioner deems appropriate in light of the facts and circumstances of the conduct.”

The investigation into Bowyer involves the same prosecution team that has targeted a multimillion-dollar illegal sports gambling scheme anchored in Orange County, according to the Times sources and court records. At least a dozen people have been charged in that wider probe — including ex-Dodger Yasiel Puig, who has pleaded not guilty — that centered on a bookmaking operation led by former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix of Newport Beach, the records show.

Mizuhara was born in Japan and grew up in Southern California. He graduated from Diamond Bar High School in 2003, where he played on the soccer team, then attended UC Riverside.

Mizuhara first crossed paths with Ohtani while working as an English-language interpreter for American players on the Nippon-Ham Fighters, Ohtani’s Japanese team in the Nippon Professional Baseball league.

When Ohtani signed with the Angels in late 2017, Mizuhara became his personal interpreter. Mizuhara followed Ohtani to the Dodgers during the offseason.

Mizuhara has been a constant companion of the extremely private Ohtani throughout the player’s MLB career. The two typically drive to the ballpark together. Mizuhara performed grocery runs when Ohtani was injured. They are rarely seen apart around team facilities. Their wives even appeared to have struck up a relationship recently, spending time together during the team’s current trip to South Korea.

In recent years, Ohtani has become the face of Major League Baseball and one of the most celebrated athletes in the world. Before he signed with the Dodgers, Ohtani was the most sought-after free agent in baseball history, and his gargantuan contract is similarly unprecedented.

Bowyer has appeared in numerous court filings over the years. That includes a $1.75-million judgment against him for defaulting on a line of credit — a “marker,” in gambling parlance — issued to him by Foxwoods Resort Casino, a tribal gambling hall in Connecticut. A tribal court imposed the judgment in April 2019; an attorney for the casino filed an application to enter the judgment in Orange County Superior Court in May 2023. The casino’s attorney said the judgment has not been satisfied.

The Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas alleged in a lawsuit filed in July 2011 that Bowyer bounced a $250,000 check to the establishment. The case was dismissed six months later.

Times staff writers Dylan Hernández and Jack Harris contributed to this report

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