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Why the Los Angeles Dodgers fired Shohei Ohtani's interpreter

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The Los Angeles Dodgers have fired the interpreter for the Japanese superstar baseball player Shohei Ohtani. The interpreter is accused of using the ballplayer's money to cover millions of dollars in allegedly illegal bets. ESPN investigative reporter Tisha Thompson is here with us to tell us more about this. Good morning.

TISHA THOMPSON: Good morning.

MARTIN: So I want to be clear, no charges have been filed here. But what is the interpreter accused of doing, and how did this alleged misconduct come to light?

THOMPSON: Well, his name is Ippei Mizuhara. A lot of baseball fans just call him Ippei, and he is a long-time friend and the interpreter for Ohtani. And he incurred the gambling debts to a Southern California bookmaking operation that - according to multiple sources that I have talked to - is under federal investigation. And how he came to lose his job basically started with reporters - myself - asking questions about those wire transfers, because sources said that federal investigators are examining the operation run by Southern California bookmaker Matthew Boyer. And the wire transfer payments that were sent from Ohtani's account were sent to an associate of Boyer's, according to multiple sources and bank data that we reviewed at ESPN. And multiple sources, including Mizuhara himself, said that Ohtani does not gamble and that the funds were being used to cover Mizuhara's gambling losses.

MARTIN: I understand you got to talk to Mizuhara. What did he tell you?

THOMPSON: Oh, yeah.

MARTIN: What did he say?

THOMPSON: Well, that's a story in itself. So we originally spoke to him in a 90-minute interview late Tuesday night, several hours before the Dodgers' opening game in South Korea. And it was a wide-ranging interview. And he basically said that he - it was his gambling debts and that when he got too far in a hole - we have multiple sources telling us it's at least $4.5 million - he went to Ohtani, who told him he wasn't happy about the gambling debts, but he had decided to pay it off. He then gets into details about how we watched Ohtani log on to a computer and start to make wire transfer payments based on instructions that Mizuhara was giving him.

The thing is, Michel, is that about 12 hours later, as we were getting ready to publish our story after the Dodgers game had ended in South Korea, we got a statement from his attorneys saying that there had been a massive theft from Ohtani's bank account. And they didn't get into those details, but a massive theft.

MARTIN: So this - wait, you got a statement from Ohtani's attorneys?

THOMPSON: Yes. It was from Ohtani's attorneys through his spokesperson...

MARTIN: So he's saying he didn't know about any of this.

THOMPSON: ...That there had been a massive theft.

MARTIN: OK.

THOMPSON: So we start talking to people. We start calling people. And, of course, I call Mizuhara, who walks it all - who walks it back. He tells me that - when I said, did you lie to me in that interview, he said yes. And then he tells me Ohtani knows nothing about his gaming debts and did not do the wire transfers.

MARTIN: Very confusing. So are federal authorities looking into Mizuhara or Ohtani? And I want to say again, no charges have been filed against any of these people.

THOMPSON: The attorney said in their statement that they're turning the report of a massive theft to the authorities. We're trying to figure out who those authorities are right now. I will tell you, before we published our story, we had sources tell us that in terms of the federal investigation into the bookmaking operation, no one had yet questioned - and there wasn't necessarily expectation that they would be - either Ohtani or Mizuhara.

MARTIN: That's ESPN investigative reporter Tisha Thompson. Tisha, thank you.

THOMPSON: Thanks.

MARTIN: And just a note - we reached out to the Dodgers and the U.S. Attorney's Office for comment, but we have not received a response.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL MICHELS AFFAIR'S "CAN IT ALL BE SO SIMPLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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