Shohei Ohtani says he never bet on sports in first remarks since Ippei Mizuhara accusations

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Facing a packed room of reporters, Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani gave prepared remarks Monday in an attempt to shed light on the accusations that his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, engaged in a “massive theft” of the ballplayer’s funds to place bets with an illegal bookmaker, saying he was “saddened and shocked” by the revelations.

“I never bet on baseball or any other sports and have never asked someone to do so on my behalf and have never bet through a bookmaker,” Ohtani said through interpreter Will Ireton, who was sitting to the two-way star’s right during the news conference at Dodger Stadium. “Until a couple of days ago, I didn’t know this was happening. … Ippei has stolen money from my account and told lies.”

Ohtani detailed he was unaware Mizuhara had a gambling problem until there was a team meeting after Wednesday’s game against the San Diego Padres in Seoul.

“Ippei admitted that he had used my account to pay off the debt,” Ohtani said. “At that point I went to my representatives, who found out Ippei had been lying the whole time.”

During various points in the 15-minute news conference, in which he took no questions from reporters, Ohtani expressed shock and dismay, a point he underlined before exiting.

“In conclusion, I want to say I have never bet on sports or used a bookmaker. I am beyond shocked. It’s really hard to verbalize how I’m feeling at this point. The season is gonna start so will let my lawyers handle matters from here on out.”

Ohtani’s remarks — his first public comments since The Times first reported on the scandal last Wednesday — came after a week of intense public speculation regarding the allegations his camp had made against Mizuhara, and conflicting stories both parties had offered to ESPN in the lead-up to Mizuhara’s firing.

A day before The Times’ story was published, Mizuhara gave an on-the-record interview to ESPN, which was also investigating connections law enforcement authorities had found between Ohtani and Matthew Bowyer, the alleged Orange County bookmaker who has been the subject of a federal probe.

In that interview, which ESPN said was facilitated by an unnamed “crisis-communications spokesman” for Ohtani, Mizuhara initially claimed that Ohtani was not only aware of his interpreter’s gambling habits, but had paid off Mizuhara’s gambling debts to Bowyer, supposedly making the wire transfers himself to one of Bowyer’s associates.

“Obviously, [Ohtani] wasn’t happy about it and said he would help me out to make sure I never do this again,” Mizuhara told ESPN last Tuesday, while clarifying that Ohtani had not made any bets himself. “He decided to pay it off for me.”

Before either The Times or ESPN published stories on the scandal, however, both the unnamed Ohtani spokesperson and Mizuhara himself recanted that account of the events to ESPN, the outlet reported. Instead, last Wednesday, the West Hollywood law firm Berk Brettler, which has also been representing Ohtani, made its claim that, “In the course of responding to recent media inquiries, we discovered that Shohei has been the victim of a massive theft.”

Later that day, Mizuhara was fired by the Dodgers during the team’s season-opening series in Seoul.

In the week since, both Major League Baseball and the Internal Revenue Service opened their own investigations into the situation, in addition to the ongoing federal investigation into Bowyer’s alleged operation.

Ohtani, who had declined to comment to reporters multiple times amid the firestorm of the scandal, finally said on Sunday afternoon that he would talk Monday.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Sunday when he learned of Ohtani’s plans to address the situation publicly. “I’m happy he’s going to speak, speak to what he knows and give his thoughts on the whole situation. I think it’ll give us a little bit more clarity.”

Ohtani, the two-way talent and two-time most valuable player who signed a record $700-million contract this offseason, is still set to be in the Dodgers lineup for the team’s home opener Thursday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals. He is still expected to play a key role on the field this season, hoping to help the Dodgers fulfill their World Series expectations after the team spent more than $1.2 billion total this past offseason on player acquisitions.

However, his off-the-field saga is now looming over the team’s campaign — amplifying the intensity of the public spotlight the club finds itself under.

“We’ve shown over the years that we continue to move forward,” Roberts said of his team’s ability to handle external distractions, having dealt with off-field situations such as Trevor Bauer’s suspension, Julio Urías’ arrest and uproar over a team award for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in recent years. “Not to be insensitive for various situations, but we all understand we have jobs to do.”

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