Former MLB Interpreter Ippei Mizuhara Pleads Guilty to $17 Million Fraud and Tax Evasion

Ippei Mizuhara, formerly serving as the interpreter and de facto manager for Major League Baseball star Shohei Ohtani, has entered a plea agreement with federal authorities. Mizuhara faces serious legal repercussions under two federal charges: one count of bank fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal prison, and one count of subscribing to a false tax return, with a potential sentence of up to three years.

Ippei Mizuhara began his tenure as Shohei Ohtani’s interpreter in 2018 when Ohtani joined the Los Angeles Angels. Over time, his role expanded beyond language interpretation to include significant managerial duties, specifically handling financial transactions and other personal business matters for Ohtani. This position granted Mizuhara extensive access to Ohtani’s personal and financial accounts, enabling a level of trust and operational control that later facilitated the unauthorized financial activities.

Context of Their Relationship

The professional relationship between Mizuhara and Ohtani evolved in a manner that allowed Mizuhara to act on behalf of Ohtani in various capacities, often without direct oversight. This included interactions with sports agents, financial advisors, and banking institutions, primarily in contexts where language barriers presented challenges for Ohtani. By March 2018, Mizuhara assisted Ohtani in setting up a bank account in Phoenix, a crucial element in the subsequent fraudulent activities. Mizuhara’s deep involvement in both the personal and professional aspects of Ohtani’s life positioned him uniquely to manipulate financial operations undetected for an extended period.

Details of the Criminal Charges

Federal prosecutors have formally charged Ippei Mizuhara with one count of bank fraud, under which he potentially faces up to 30 years in federal prison if convicted. This charge stems from Mizuhara’s manipulation of banking security protocols and unauthorized financial transactions from Shohei Ohtani’s accounts. Additionally, Mizuhara faces one count of subscribing to a false tax return, a charge that carries a sentence of up to three years. This latter charge accuses Mizuhara of significantly underreporting his income on his 2022 federal tax return, failing to include over $4 million in illegally obtained funds.

The Plea Agreement

Ippei Mizuhara has agreed to plead guilty to both the bank fraud and tax return charges as part of a plea agreement with the Justice Department. This agreement outlines Mizuhara’s admission of guilt and his cooperation with federal investigators. As part of the plea deal, he will formally enter his guilty plea at an arraignment scheduled for May 14 in the United States District Court. This plea not only acknowledges his criminal actions but also aids the court in bypassing a trial, thus expediting the legal proceedings. Mizuhara’s cooperation may potentially influence the final sentencing, pending judicial approval of the plea agreement’s terms.

The Fraud Scheme

Mizuhara orchestrated a complex fraud scheme involving nearly $17 million illegally transferred from Shohei Ohtani’s bank account. He first gained unauthorized control over the account by changing the registered email address and telephone number, ensuring that any verification calls regarding wire transfers would reach him instead of Ohtani. He then impersonated Ohtani to authorize wire transfers on numerous occasions. Specifically, Mizuhara transferred $500,000 on June 20, 2023, to an associate of a bookmaker to cover gambling debts. In addition to gambling-related payments, Mizuhara used Ohtani’s funds for personal expenses, such as $60,000 for dental work in September 2023, which he initially charged to Ohtani’s debit card before double-dipping by depositing a check meant for the same expense into his personal account.

Tax Fraud Involvement

The tax fraud charge against Mizuhara pertains to his 2022 federal income tax return where he significantly underreported his income. He reported a taxable income of $136,865, deliberately omitting an additional $4.1 million he acquired through his fraudulent schemes. This underreporting resulted in a substantial tax liability of approximately $1,149,400 in unpaid taxes, according to the plea agreement. The deliberate falsification of his tax return not only misrepresented his financial status but also defrauded the IRS, leading to further legal repercussions beyond the bank fraud charges.

Legal Implications and Defense Considerations

Mizuhara’s plea agreement to charges of bank fraud and subscribing to a false tax return carries significant legal consequences. By agreeing to plead guilty, Mizuhara accepts the likelihood of a substantial prison sentence, with bank fraud alone carrying a maximum of 30 years. The plea deal may offer some leniency in sentencing in exchange for his cooperation, but the combined potential penalties underscore the severity of his offenses. Additionally, the court will likely order him to pay restitution to Shohei Ohtani, covering the financial losses incurred from the fraudulent activities, alongside substantial fines and the unpaid taxes plus penalties and interest due to the IRS.

Potential defense strategies, had the case proceeded to trial, could have included challenging the evidence of intent to defraud. Mizuhara’s defense team might have argued that the transfers were the result of misunderstandings or miscommunications regarding his authority over the accounts. Another possible defense could have centered around the assertion that he believed he had implicit consent for his actions, based on the trust and autonomy historically granted to him in managing Ohtani’s financial affairs. Additionally, the defense could have questioned the reliability and origin of the evidence, especially the electronic records and bank statements, to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case.

Role of Federal Agencies

The IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were instrumental in the detailed analysis of financial transactions and communications that led to Mizuhara’s charges. IRS-CI focused on the tax fraud aspects, tracing the unreported income and calculating the resultant tax discrepancies. HSI’s involvement, through the El Camino Real Financial Crimes Task Force, highlighted the broader implications of the case within the financial system and its impact on the victim. The cooperation between these agencies, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, ensured a comprehensive approach to both the investigation and prosecution, emphasizing the government’s commitment to enforcing laws against financial crimes and protecting victims.

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