MLB investigates Ohtani and Translator over sports betting scandal

MLB investigates Ohtani and Translator over sports betting scandal

Major League Baseball announced Friday that it has opened a formal investigation into the unusual circumstances surrounding a sports betting scandal involving the game’s most famous star, Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The extent to which the investigation, overseen by a private organization, uncovers the truth remains to be seen.

The Dodgers on Wednesday fired Ohtani’s translator, Ippei Mizuhara, who is suspected of funneling payments totaling at least $4.5 million from Ohtani’s bank account to California bookie Matthew Bowyer. Mizuhara gave an interview to ESPN on Tuesday in which he claimed he has never bet on baseball, but he does bet on other sports. ESPN says Mizuhara later denied making the wire transfer and claimed Ohtani, whose representative insists he never gambled and was a victim of theft, was unaware of Mizuhara’s activities.

Although sports betting is legal in 38 states, it is illegal in California. Bets made across state lines, as well as those to offshore websites, can also cause legal complications that could attract the attention of federal law enforcement. According to ESPN, Bowyer’s betting operation is the subject of a federal investigation.

For its part, MLB prohibits players, managers and others in the game from betting on baseball. This type of betting is grounds for a one-year suspension, which rises to a lifetime ban if the bet is on games in which a person participates.

MLB’s Division of Investigations, which was created in 2008 at the urging of the Mitchell Report on illegal steroid use, will conduct the Ohtani investigation.

MLB has significant authority over Ohtani and other individuals employed by MLB teams. They are contractually bound to cooperate with a league investigation. MLB players, managers and other employees — including interpreters — can be suspended or fined for refusing to cooperate or otherwise obstructing an investigation. The MLBPA can protect players’ rights in an investigation, though ultimately the player must cooperate.

However, MLB faces several obstacles in its attempt to gather evidence.

For starters, Mizuhara was fired, which is both a significant and ambiguous development. It is not known how the Dodgers hired Mizuhara or how they fired him. If Mizuhara was hired under contract or if he was fired as part of a financial settlement with the team, he may have nondisclosure obligations. Those obligations could keep his continued receipt of payments from the Dodgers quiet. MLB could force the Dodgers to release Mizuhara from non-disclosure restrictions.

MLB also faces several structural limitations in approaching Mizuhara. Can’t suspend or fine him since he’s no longer part of the MLB. He could simply refuse to talk to MLB, and MLB would have no way of forcing him to participate in an investigation. The same goes for Bowyer and anyone else outside of MLB involved in the controversy.

People outside of MLB may conclude that they have nothing to gain by cooperating with the league. These individuals could soon be embroiled in legal disputes with former employers and the federal government.

As reported by Sportico, Mizuhara may consider legal action against the Dodgers over his firing. He could also be charged if his alleged transfers from Ohtani’s bank accounts constitute theft or fraud. Anything he or anyone else says to MLB can be subpoenaed by the feds. A person worried that admission to MLB could provide evidence later used by prosecutors to bring criminal charges may decide not to cooperate.

Until now, MLB is a private entity. There are no subpoena powers that could compel the swearing in or sharing of emails, text messages and other forms of electronic evidence. Individuals who talk to MLB investigators will not be under oath, a point that becomes especially important if the interviewee knows that telling the truth could force an admission of breaking a law or violating a moral clause in an endorsement deal. When not under oath, a witness can knowingly lie without fearing the risk of criminal charges of perjury. They may also use interviews to provide incomplete or biased accounts and shift blame onto others.

MLB has a long history of aggressively seeking facts and evidence. When investigating Pete Rose, MLB pulled information from Rose’s bookie, Ron Peters, to build its case. When MLB suspected that Biogenesis was supplying players with PEDs, it sued the Florida clinic to obtain client records. It’s possible the league will take an aggressive approach in trying to uncover why Ohtani’s accounts were (apparently) used by a now-former MLB team employee to transfer more than $4.5 million to a bookie.

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