Ohtani to address allegations vs. ex-interpreter

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LOS ANGELES — Shohei Ohtani briefly came into the Dodgers clubhouse on Sunday and declared he would make himself available to reporters — and address the illegal gambling and theft allegations levied against his former interpreter — the following afternoon.

The interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, was fired by the Dodgers on Wednesday in the wake of media inquiries surrounding at least $4.5 million in wire transfers sent from Ohtani’s bank account to a Southern California bookmaking operation that is under federal investigation.

Ohtani’s camp initially said Ohtani transferred the funds to cover Mizuhara’s debt and presented Mizuhara for an interview with ESPN on Tuesday night, during which he laid out the process in detail. The following day, a statement from Berk Brettler LLP, the law firm representing Ohtani in the matter, instead said the two-way star “has been the victim of a massive theft.” Mizuhara then told ESPN that Ohtani had no knowledge of his debt and that Ohtani had not transferred the money.

The Dodgers were opening their season in South Korea during that time, and Ohtani was ushered out of the clubhouse without addressing the media after the second and final game Thursday night.

On Sunday, before an exhibition contest that marked the Dodgers’ first stateside game since the matter surfaced, 10 cameras surrounded Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on the floor of the third-base dugout, with at least a dozen more lining up along the railing just beyond it.

Roberts said it’s “good” that Ohtani will address the matter Monday afternoon.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Roberts added. “I’m happy he’s going to speak and speak to what he knows and give his thoughts on the whole situation. I think it’ll give us all a little bit more clarity.”

Ohtani has not been accused of gambling, and none of the bets is believed to have been made on baseball — a circumstance that could lead to a permanent ban from the sport. But California is one of a dozen states in which sports betting remains illegal. The bookmaker in question, Orange County resident Mathew Bowyer, had his home raided in October amid an investigation by the same U.S. attorney’s office handling a sprawling federal money laundering and illegal gambling case in Las Vegas that drew in former minor league baseball player Wayne Nix.

Major League Baseball announced Friday afternoon that its department of investigations also is formally looking into the matter. Ohtani, however, is expected to continue to play while the investigation unfolds. Penalties for players who place non-baseball bets with illegal bookmakers fall under the discretion of the commissioner; the last case was in 2015, when then-Miami Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart was fined an undisclosed amount.

Roberts said the Dodgers heard a presentation during spring training that outlined the MLB rules around gambling, as is the case every year, but that the topic has not been readdressed. Ohtani has not formally spoken to the team at large, Roberts said, though he believes Ohtani has had “one-off conversations” with certain teammates about the matter.

Roberts added that Ohtani, who was in his typical No. 2 spot in the lineup while serving as the designated hitter for Sunday’s 5-3 win against the crosstown Los Angeles Angels, is “business as usual.” Hours prior the contest — the first of three exhibition games before the Dodgers restart their regular season against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday — Ohtani wore a big smile while walking back from right field and waving to his former Angels teammates.

Speaking to reporters on Monday is Ohtani’s decision, not a request the Dodgers made, Roberts said.

The Dodgers have been no strangers to off-the-field legal issues. Three years ago, the Dodgers signed Trevor Bauer, who faced sexual assault allegations that led to the longest suspension in the history of MLB’s domestic violence policy. At some point in the near future, another of their former pitchers, Julio Urias, could become the first player to face two suspensions under that same policy.

The Ohtani situation is vastly different, but it has triggered another negative off-the-field storyline for a team hyperfocused on winning the World Series.

Roberts said he doesn’t believe it will be a distraction.

“We’re certainly battle-tested from that regard,” he said, “and we’ve shown over the years that we continue to move forward. Not to be insensitive towards various situations, but we all understand we have jobs to do. First and foremost, playing baseball and preparing has got to be a part of it.”

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