HomeSportsWhat's next for Shohei Ohtani and MLB after Ippei Mizuhara was formally...

What’s next for Shohei Ohtani and MLB after Ippei Mizuhara was formally charged with bank fraud?

The bombshell Shohei Ohtani-Ippei Mizuhara gambling controversy is hurtling toward a conclusion. The release of an incredibly detailed IRS Special Agent report on Thursday shed light on many of the unanswered questions and revealed new details of the case.

In the main, the investigation absolves Ohtani of any wrongdoing and paints his former interpreter as a deceitful bad actor who stole at least $16 million from the ballplayer. Following the release of the 37-page criminal complaint, this article will raise three pertinent questions answered by the report and three remaining questions about where things go from here.

An important note: The IRS report should be taken as 100 percent factual. These are not internet sleuths or speculation merchants. This is the government, a body that has very little incentive to protect or cover up a guilty party in this matter.

Doubting the validity of the IRS report is a choice, one related to the larger issue of conspiracy and the decaying of trust in institutions going on in American society. Those willing to dismiss, at face, the legitimacy of this investigation because “it just doesn’t add up” are likely the same people who think there was a Damar Hamlin body double or that the moon landing was a hoax. It’s an unfortunate trend, far beyond the confines of this situation, but it’s relevant in understanding why many remain regrettably skeptical about Ohtani’s innocence.

Onward.

How could Ohtani not have known that so much money was being withdrawn from his account, and how did Mizuhara gain access to Ohtani’s accounts in the first place?

Let’s start with the facts. The report states: “In or about 2018, MIZUHARA accompanied [Ohtani] to a Bank branch in Arizona to assist [Ohtani] in opening the x5848 Account, and translated for [Ohtani] when setting up the account details.”

This makes sense. When Ohtani came stateside in 2018, he needed an American bank account. Mizuhara, his interpreter and confidant, helped him set up that account. It’s no surprise then that Mizuhara knew the relevant passwords and security questions, allowing him constant access to Ohtani’s money.

For three years, that dynamic did not seem to be an issue — that is, until Mizuhara allegedly got sucked into the shady world of illegal gambling. The report indicates that online access to Ohtani’s bank account was not used between 2018 and Oct. 27, 2021, about a month after Mizuhara started gambling.

A little while later, in 2022, the bank in question grew suspicious and froze Ohtani’s account. Mizuhara then impersonated Ohtani on the phone with a bank agent to unfreeze said account, acquiring continued access. Mizuhara also changed the email address and phone number associated with the account so that all communication would flow through him and not Ohtani.

See also  Report: Steelers decline Justin Fields' fifth-year option

That helps explain how Ohtani was oblivious to what was going on. Between that account and the money from his endorsements (in another account run by his agency), the superstar had all the money he needed for his various endeavors. That Ohtani was so detached from his own funds is undeniably questionable and perhaps shows a lack of maturity on his part, but it’s difficult to deduce, based on the evidence presented, that the two-time MVP was aware of Mizuhara’s malfeasance.

The baseball world has known for some time how vital Mizuhara was to Ohtani. The interpreter was more than an interpreter; he was a personal assistant, a manager, a friend and Ohtani’s conduit to the English-speaking world. That he had full access to the superstar’s personal information is understandable, but the level of deceit is absolutely shocking.

How is it possible that Mizuhara, who was down such an overwhelming sum of money and growing more desperate, refrained from gambling on baseball games?

Again, let’s look at the facts. According to the IRS report, Mizuhara placed “19,000 wagers between December 2021 and January 2024.” However, the report states that “the records do not reflect any bets on baseball games.” That’s the only mention in the 37-page report of the possibility of bets being placed on baseball, but it holds remarkable weight and saves MLB from having to investigate how the integrity of any games might have been impacted.

Furthermore, that the bookmaker’s detailed records show zero evidence of baseball-related gambling reflects what Mizuhara himself claimed to ESPN a few weeks ago: that there was no betting on baseball.

But how? That’s so bizarre. How was somebody so detached from reality and acting so recklessly able to remain disciplined and not cross that line?

Consider this from the bookmaker’s perspective. Why would the bookmaker allow Mizuhara — whether they believed he was acting on his own or on Ohtani’s behalf — to place bets on baseball games? The book knew who Mizuhara was and that his job gave him proximity to Ohtani and inside information related to Major League Baseball. Allowing Mizuhara to place bets on baseball games would have been, quite simply, a bad business decision. If Mizuhara wins, the house loses; why allow the odds to be artificially skewed in his favor?

The report makes no mention of whether that dynamic was unspoken or Mizuhara attempted to bet on baseball games and was rebuffed by the bookmaker. Either way, the evidence is overwhelming and shows zero indication that any money was wagered on baseball games. MLB should be thanking its lucky stars.

Why did the bookie allow Mizuhara, whose annual earnings reportedly did not exceed $500,000, to make bets in the millions of dollars?

There’s two answers here — one simple, one complex.

Simple: The money was coming in. No matter where it was coming from or whether the bookmaker thought Ohtani was involved, the wire transfers were going through often enough to not force the issue. Yes, Mizuhara was deeper in the red than he could personally afford, but it’s clear from the report that the bookmakers were doing everything possible to keep the gambling addict on the hook.

Complex: The bookmakers believed that Mizuhara was backed by Ohtani, and thus, they were comfortable floating so much leash to Mizuhara because they knew Ohtani had money to blow.

See also  NFL Draft: Would QB-needy Patriots actually trade up from No. 3? Here's what the League thinks

Both answers make sense, especially within the context of Mizuhara having complete and total control over Ohtani’s accounts, as the report indicates. Most people in Mizuhara’s salary range would not have been given such a long leash, but most people in that tax bracket aren’t shadowing a $700 million man.

Shohei Ohtani's former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, has been formally charged with bank fraud for allegedly stealing more than $16 million from the Dodgers star. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

How will this change Ohtani’s inner circle, and will it impact the way he interacts with the public?

One thing that has been emphasized over and over since this story broke — and was again made very clear in the criminal complaint — is the degree to which Ohtani relied on Mizuhara in all aspects of his life. It wasn’t just the media or the people surrounding him with the Angels and Dodgers; even those closest to Ohtani relied on Mizuhara as the be-all, end-all conduit. Consider this excerpt from the complaint regarding how Ohtani’s agent, Nez Balelo at CAA, communicated with his client:

“Agent 1 did not hire an interpreter to communicate with Victim A because MIZUHARA always accompanied Victim A. Agent 1 did not speak directly to Victim A or regularly exchange text messages with Victim A. Instead, Agent 1 relayed messages to Victim A through MIZUHARA.”

As we now know, this level of trust was taken advantage of by Mizuhara in shocking ways that exemplify an unfathomable and upsetting level of betrayal fueled by addiction. With this relationship — one that in many ways has defined Ohtani’s persona since he arrived in MLB — now dissolved, it will be fascinating to see if there is a tangible difference in the way Ohtani interacts with those around him and the general public moving forward.

In the days after Mizuhara was fired in March, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts suggested that communication with Ohtani was already improved with Mizuhara out of the picture. On the surface, the process going forward will involve Will Ireton, a Dodgers baseball operations employee and previously Kenta Maeda’s interpreter, who has since become Ohtani’s interpreter. At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine that Ireton will replace Mizuhara in all of his former roles away from the field. More likely, he’ll serve as Ohtani’s interpreter strictly for media appearances and communication with Dodgers teammates and staff.

The question then becomes whether Ohtani will look to find another individual capable of assuming the full level of trust and responsibility, a la Mizuhara, or build a more robust team around him that can support him as his career progresses. One could argue that this harrowing experience might prompt Ohtani to close off even further in a more vigilant effort to protect himself, but based on how he has acted and communicated since the end of last season — with the revelations and subsequent public appearances of his dog, Decoy, and his wife, Mamiko Tanaka, as well as his drastic increase in media availabilities relative to his last few seasons in Anaheim — it seems like Ohtani is prepared to open up a bit as he embarks on his Dodgers tenure. Whether it’s via Ireton or through his own use of social media and public interactions with teammates, it’ll be interesting to see how his public persona changes with Mizuhara no longer in his orbit.

See also  2024 Wells Fargo Championship: Full field headlined by Rory McIlroy, defending champion Wyndham Clark

What does this mean for MLB? Is there still an ongoing investigation from the league’s perspective?

While the federal investigation into Mizuhara’s alleged involvement with an illegal bookmaker has been ongoing for months now — and appears to be nearing a conclusion, with Mizuhara reportedly expected to plead guilty — recall that MLB announced March 22 that it was launching its own investigation into the allegations. After the official publishing of the criminal complaint on Thursday, MLB released a statement that its own investigation is on hold until legal resolution is reached:

“We are aware of the charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office against Mr. Mizuhara for bank fraud after a thorough federal investigation. According to that investigation, Ohtani is considered a victim of fraud and there is no evidence that he authorized betting with an illegal bookmaker. Further, the investigation did not find any betting on baseball by Mr. Mizuhara. Given the information disclosed today, and other information we have already collected, we will wait until resolution of the criminal proceeding to determine whether further investigation is warranted.”

It’s important to remember that the commissioner’s office has the latitude to dole out punishments for players based on its own findings, regardless of whether a player is charged in court. But given the findings and evidence presented thus far — and, seemingly, what the league found in its own investigation (“other information we have already collected”) — it seems highly unlikely that we are heading toward any sort of punishment for Ohtani from the league.

On a broader level, Ohtani’s innocence represents a massive, collective sigh of relief for MLB (and its fans) after fear that one of the faces of the sport might’ve been directly involved with illegal gambling or, even worse, wagering on baseball. And while this case represents an exceptionally unique set of circumstances, it’s a sobering reminder of how increasingly prevalent sports betting is in our country and how important it will be for the league to maintain barriers to help players avoid getting tangled up in anything associated with legal or illegal gambling — if even unintentionally — that could be construed as threatening the integrity of the game.

Are there more details to be uncovered, or does this story end with Mizuhara being sentenced and Ohtani moving on?

With Mizuhara expected to plead guilty and Ohtani declared a victim by the authorities, from a strictly legal perspective, we might achieve some level of finality and closure in the coming weeks. But for as detailed as the criminal complaint was and for all the reporting already done surrounding this story, the interest in the Mizuhara-Ohtani relationship is not going to die down, considering the scandalous nature of the entire saga and the fact that it involved the most famous baseball player on Earth. While it might no longer qualify as a “distraction” for Ohtani and the Dodgers — not that it seems to have been bothering Ohtani much during his scorching start to the season — for years to come there will be ample intrigue regarding how it all unfolded and the details behind how and why Ohtani came to trust Mizuhara to such an extent.

It’s possible that Mizuhara will reveal more specifics regarding his motives and the timeline of his spiral into gambling addiction when he appears in court. Perhaps Ohtani will eventually comment further on the origins of his relationship with Mizuhara and why he opted to funnel so much of his life through him. Either way, just because the most important questions regarding Ohtani’s innocence in this case have been answered doesn’t mean people will stop trying to understand Ohtani the person more thoroughly.

Despite his renowned presence on the global baseball stage dating to his days starring in Japan, the world is still getting to know Ohtani beyond his generational on-field ability. And unfortunately, this story of personal betrayal and deception has turned out to be one of the most illuminating accounts of Ohtani and his personal life that we’ve ever received. As we look ahead to the next chapter for Ohtani, this dramatic sequence of events will always represent a definitive turning point, a delineation between distinct eras of his career — one with Mizuhara always by his side and one without him.

- Advertisement -
RELATED ARTICLES

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments