IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Dodgers fire Shohei Ohtani's interpreter after Japanese star alleges 'massive theft'

Ippei Mizuhara — who has been a constant presence at Ohtani’s side since the two-way star’s move to the U.S. — was let go Wednesday amid allegations tied to sports gambling.
Los Angeles Dodgers' designated hitter Shohei Ohtani chats with his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara
Los Angeles Dodgers' designated hitter Shohei Ohtani chats with his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara at the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday. Lee Jin-man / AP

The Los Angeles Dodgers have fired Shohei Ohtani's interpreter and close friend after the player's attorneys alleged "massive theft" from the Japanese baseball star in a case tied to sports gambling.

The Dodgers said in a statement Wednesday that Ippei Mizuhara — who has been a constant presence at Ohtani's side since the two-way star's move to the U.S. — was no longer working with the team.

"The Dodgers are aware of media reports and are gathering information. The team can confirm that interpreter Ippei Mizuhara has been terminated. The team has no further comment at this time," the statement said. It followed reports from The Los Angeles Times and ESPN.

Attorneys for Ohtani at the law firm Berk Brettler LLP said in a statement: "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."

ESPN reported Wednesday night, citing multiple unnamed sources, that Mizuhara's firing came after media questions about his alleged ties to illegal gambling. ESPN reported that the allegations centered on wire transfers from Ohtani's account worth at least $4.5 million, allegedly paid to a bookmaking operation in Southern California that is under federal investigation.

NBC News has not independently confirmed those details.

Baseball star Shohei Ohtani fires interpreter over 'massive theft' allegation
Mizuhara has become a familiar face to baseball fans in the U.S. as a constant presence by Ohtani's side.Frederic J. Brown / AFP - Getty Images

ESPN reported that a spokesman for Ohtani first said that the player had knowingly transferred the funds to cover the gambling debt of Mizuhara, Ohtani's long-term friend and associate.

The same spokesman organized a 90-minute interview between Mizuhara and ESPN on Tuesday night, where Mizuhara explained his side of the story.

He told ESPN that he had incurred the debts betting on the NBA, the NFL, college football and international soccer but never on baseball, which is prohibited by MLB rules.

“Obviously, he [Ohtani] wasn’t happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again,” Mizuhara said. “He decided to pay it off for me."

“I want everyone to know Shohei had zero involvement in betting. I want people to know I did not know this was illegal. I learned my lesson the hard way. I will never do sports betting ever again,” he told ESPN.

However, ESPN said that as it prepared to publish its story Wednesday, the spokesman for Ohtani disavowed Mizuhara’s account and said the player’s lawyers would issue a statement.

ESPN reported that Mizuhara then changed his story Wednesday, saying that Ohtani in fact had no knowledge of his gambling debts and Ohtani had not transferred money to the bookmaker’s associate. ESPN reported that Mizuhara said he had been told not to comment on whether he had been accused of theft by Ohtani but declined to say by whom.

NBC News has contacted the Dodgers, representatives for Ohtani and Mizuhara overnight seeking further comment.

Mizuhara has worked with Ohtani since his major league debut in 2018.

After working with the Boston Red Sox as an interpreter, he met Ohtani after returning to Japan in 2013. When Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels in 2017, the team hired Mizuhara to work as his personal interpreter. ESPN reported that Mizuhara told the outlet he had been paid between $300,000 and $500,000 annually.

It has already been an eventful week for Ohtani, 29, who has become the face of MLB's efforts to build its brand in Asia and one of the sport's leading stars.

He has been greeted by legions of adoring fans at the Dodgers' season-opening series in Seoul, despite South Korea's long-standing rivalry with Ohtani's native Japan.

Los Angeles Dodgers' designated hitter Shohei Ohtani chats with his interpreter Ippei Mizuhara
Mizuhara had been with Ohtani this week in Seoul. Lee Jin-man / AP

Authorities investigated a bomb threat against the Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, where the Dodgers were playing the San Diego Padres.

Ohtani became one of the hottest names in global sports after joining the Dodgers in December in a 10-year deal worth $700 million, the biggest in baseball history. He recently announced his surprise marriage, and subsequently shared the identity of his new wife on social media after huge interest from fans and media.

On the field, Ohtani's two hits helped the Dodgers beat the Padres 5-2 in Wednesday's season opener in Seoul, on his debut for the team.

At a news conference on Thursday ahead of the second Dodgers-Padres game, Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts would not comment on the case but said Ohtani would play as normal.

"Shohei’s ready," he said. "Ready to go for tonight’s game."

Sports gambling is a booming industry in the U.S., where 38 states and the District of Columbia now allow some form of it and sports from the NFL to the MLB have increasingly embraced its lucrative potential. But it remains illegal in California and carries stringent penalties for players who violate league policies on gambling.

The MLB's policy is posted in every locker room. It prohibits all players and team employees from wagering — even legally — on baseball and bans betting on other sports with illegal or offshore bookmakers.

Betting on baseball carries a one-year ban from the sport, while the the penalty for betting on other sports illegally is at the discretion of the commissioner.