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The former interpreter and longtime friend of baseball megastar Shohei Ohtani surrendered to federal authorities Friday after allegedly pilfering $16 million from his famous companion to fuel his “voracious appetite for illegal sports betting,” officials said.

“This morning, Ippei Mizuhara surrendered to law enforcement and is in federal custody,” the Department of Justice said in a news release.

Mizuhara faces a federal charge of bank fraud after making unauthorized transfers from Ohtani’s bank account from November 2021 until January 2024, US Attorney Martin Estrada said Thursday.

Mizuhara even impersonated the superstar to try to get bank employees to approve enormous wire transfers, the prosecutor said.

CNN has reached out to Mizuhara’s attorney for comment.

Mizuhara will appear in court before Magistrate Judge Maria A. Audero at 1 p.m. PT Friday.

If convicted, Mizuhara could face up to 30 years in prison.

Mizuhara took advantage of his close relationship with Ohtani – whom he accompanied constantly due to the Japanese star’s limited English – “largely to finance his voracious appetite for illegal sports betting,” Estrada said.

Shortly after Ohtani moved from Japan to the United States, Mizuhara helped the baseball phenom create a bank account in 2018, the prosecutor said.

But Mizuhara refused to give access to Ohtani’s other professional advisers – including his agent, accountant and financial adviser, the prosecutor said.

Phone and bank records indicate Mizuhara accessed Ohtani’s account online, Estrada said. And in 2021, Mizuhara started placing sports bets with a group of bookmakers linked to an illegal gambling operation, the prosecutor said.

“We do not believe any bets were made on baseball games,” Estrada said. But “over time, Mr. Mizuhara’s bets became more and more frequent. And over time, Mr. Mizuhara’s bets became larger and larger in amounts.”

In phone call recordings obtained by investigators, Mizuhara allegedly lied to bank employees and pretended to be Ohtani – sharing his friend’s personal biographical information – to try to get the bank to approve large wire transfers, Estrada said.

“There would have been no reason for Mr. Mizuhara to impersonate Mr. Ohtani in calls with the bank if these transfers had been authorized,” the prosecutor said.

Any winnings from Mizuhara’s gambling were not placed back in Ohtani’s account but rather in Mizuhara’s personal account, Estrada said.

“Mr. Mizuhara committed fraud on a massive scale,” the prosecutor said.

A spreadsheet of Mizuhara’s gambling records “reflect approximately 19,000 wagers between December 2021 and January 2024, and nearly 25 bets per day on average,” according to a criminal complaint written by an IRS special agent.

During that time period, records show Mizuhara’s “total winning bets of $142,256,769.74, and total losing bets of $182,935,206.68, leaving a total net balance of negative $40,678,436.94,” the complaint says.

Ohtani became a household name even among non-baseball fans when he signed a historic $700 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.

After a lengthy investigation into Ohtani’s phone records and communications, “Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case,” the prosecutor said.

“Ohtani provided his cellphone to law enforcement, who determined that there was no evidence to suggest that Ohtani was aware of, or involved in, Mizuhara’s illegal gambling activity or payment of those debts,” the US attorney’s office said.

The allegations against Mizuhara became public while the Dodgers were in South Korea for an MLB season-opening series in March. ESPN and the Los Angeles Times reported Ohtani’s lawyers accused Mizuhara of “massive theft” of millions of dollars and placing bets with a bookie under federal investigation.

Major League Baseball issued a statement Thursday in response to news about Mizuhara’s federal charge.

“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,” MLB said.

CNN’s Nick Watt, Jill Martin and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report. 

Read the full article here

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