Ohtani’s Dizzying 3 Weeks End in Exoneration by Authorities

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At times, baseball’s biggest star seemed in danger of being tainted by a gambling scandal, before his longtime interpreter was charged with fraud.

In the clubhouse after the Los Angeles Dodgers won their season opener in Seoul last month, Shohei Ohtani’s longtime interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, made a stunning admission to the team: He was a gambling addict, and Ohtani had paid his debts to a bookmaker.

Ohtani, who is not fluent in English, listened but failed to fully grasp what Mizuhara said. He knew enough to grow suspicious, however, and he wanted answers.

A couple of hours later, around midnight, Ohtani finally had the chance to pull Mizuhara into a conference room in the basement of the Fairmont Ambassador Hotel in Seoul.

With just the two of them there, Mizuhara leveled with his boss: He had accrued enormous debts to the bookmaker and had been stealing the baseball star’s money to pay them off.

In coming clean, though, Mizuhara made one last effort to protect himself from the law, according to two people familiar with the conversation, who asked for anonymity to discuss a private matter. He asked his patron to go along with the story that he had just told Ohtani’s teammates, his advisers and a reporter for ESPN who had made inquires about $4.5 million in wire transfers from Ohtani’s account to an illegal bookmaker in California.

Ohtani refused and called his agent, Nez Balelo, into the conference room. Balelo then had several other people dial in as they managed the crisis: a lawyer in Los Angeles; Matthew Hiltzik, a crisis communications executive in New York; and a new interpreter whom Ohtani’s inner circle could trust. Mizuhara’s wife also joined the meeting.

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