Mizuhara pleads guilty to stealing $17m from Ohtani to pay gambling debt

Mizuhara, wearing a dark suit with an untucked shirt and no tie, told Judge John A Holcomb: “I worked for Victim A and had access to his accounts. I had fallen into major gambling debt. The only way I could think of to pay that was to send money from Victim A’s account” to the illegal bookmaker.

Mizuhara then pled guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of subscribing to a fraudulent tax return. The maximum penalty for the charges is 33 years in prison and a $1.5m fine. Tuesday’s proceedings took place at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Court House in Santa Ana, California. Previous court appearances were at the Roybal federal complex in downtown Los Angeles.

From here, the court and US Probation Office will put together a pre-sentencing packet that Holcomb will use as a reference at sentencing.

Mass media in and out of courtroom

More than 100 media members were outside the courthouse and inside the court room, temporarily clogging Santa Ana’s 4th Street. Mizuhara spoke only in the court room and in response to Holcomb’s questions. His attorney, Michael Freedman, declined to comment despite the pair being literally surrounded by media as they exited the courthouse.

In April, Mizuhara turned himself in after federal investigators revealed he had stolen $17m from Ohtani to settle gambling debts. Although he has not been named in any of the cases related to the Wayne Nix illegal gambling ring, it appears Mizuhara was betting with Mathew Bowyer. Based in Orange County, Bowyer is also under federal investigation, but has not been charged.

Nix is set to be sentenced in September. Former Las Vegas casino executive Scott Sibella was sentenced to one year of probation and a $9,500 fine on 9 May. Sibella failed to file a suspicious activity report when Nix gambled at MGM Grand, where Sibella worked. He allowed Nix, a known illegal bookmaker, to pay for a $120,000 casino marker in cash.

Mizuhara double dipped for dental work

Mizuhara faces a much stiffer penalty. He admitted in court and in a plea agreement that he had lied to Ohtani (referred to as Victim A). Mizuhara also lied to Ohtani’s agents, financial managers and an Arizona bank. According to US Attorney Jeff Mitchell, Mizuhara impersonated Ohtani in 24 phone calls with the bank. He also “regularly logged in (to Ohtani’s bank account) and initiated wire transfers”.

Federal authorities labeled Ohtani as a victim early in the investigation. Following Mizuhara’s guilty plea, MLB cleared Ohtani and released a statement saying the Dodgers star is a “victim of fraud and this matter has been closed”.

Full statement from Shohei Ohtani on today’s guilty plea from Ippei Mizuhara. pic.twitter.com/rqRZODAdqt

— Kurt Badenhausen (@kbadenhausen) June 4, 2024

Mizuhara used some of the $16,975,010 he transferred from Ohtani’s account for other things. Mitchell said “Victim A” agreed to pay for $60,000 of dental work in September 2023 and “drew a cheque”. Mizuhara then used Ohtani’s debit card to pay for the dental work and deposited the cheque into his personal account. Mitchell also said Mizuhara used Ohtani’s money to buy Yogi Berra, Juan Soto and Ohtani baseball cards on eBay and WhatNot. Mizuhara intended to sell the cards at a profit.

Throughout the deception, Mitchell said, Mizuhara lied to Ohtani’s sports agents and financial advisors. Mizuhara denied both access to Ohtani’s accounts, claiming the baseball star said they were “private”.

Next step: Sentencing

Tuesday’s court appearance began with Holcomb welcoming the large crowd, but with a warning that recording was prohibited. He then questioned Mizuhara about his fitness to stand trial and explained what rights he waived by pleading. Before addressing the plea agreement, Holcomb told Mizuhara: “All that will be left of your case is for me to impose sentencing, which may include imprisonment.”

The total offense level for Mizuhara’s crimes is classified at 29. But the level will be reduced by up to four because Mizuhara is a zero offender and he is co-operating with authorities.

In addition to potential prison time and fines, Mizuhara will be required to pay restitution to Ohtani. He’ll also have to pay additional taxes of $1.15m before interest and penalties.

Tough stretch for MLB

It has already been a difficult several weeks for Major League Baseball with regard to gambling. On 17 May, MLB opened a betting investigation into former Ohtani teammate David Fletcher and his high school friend Cody Schultz. Fletcher currently plays for the Atlanta Braves and Schultz is a former minor leaguer. ESPN reported that Fletcher bet with Bowyer, but did not bet on baseball. Schultz, according to ESPN, bet on Angels games in which Fletcher played. He is also thought to be “Bookmaker 3” in the federal affidavit that is the basis for the Mizuhara complaint.

Then, on Monday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal broke a story saying MLB had opened a separate gambling investigation into San Diego Padres shortstop Tucupita Marcano and four minor league players. The WSJ reported that Marcano was betting on baseball when he was on the Pittsburgh Pirates roster.

Betting on baseball is a violation of MLB rules. Mere hours before Mizuhara’s court appearance on 4 June, the league announced that Marcano had received a lifetime ban. He allegedly placed 231 MLB-related wagers, including 25 wagers on the Pirates when he was on the active roster.

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