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Ohtani says he's shocked over gambling allegations involving his interpreter

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, HOST:

Major League Baseball's opening day this week is being overshadowed by a scandal swirling around its biggest star.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, Shohei Ohtani faced the media yesterday for the first time since his name was linked to a gambling scandal. Ohtani denied making any bets on sports, and he accused his former interpreter of stealing millions of dollars from his accounts to pay off the interpreter's gambling debts.

ELLIOTT: Reporter Steve Futterman joins us now from Los Angeles. Good morning, Steve.

STEVE FUTTERMAN: Good morning, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: Steve, you were at the news conference at Dodger Stadium. Did Ohtani leave any wiggle room or was this a blanket denial?

FUTTERMAN: It was pretty close to a blanket denial, very little wiggle room. Ohtani seemed very relaxed as he read his statement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHOHEI OHTANI: (Speaking Japanese).

FUTTERMAN: Through his new interpreter, he said he has never gambled on sports, never had anyone place bets on his behalf and never agreed to pay the reported $4.5 million in gambling debts incurred by his former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara. Through the new interpreter, Ohtani said that simply didn't happen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OHTANI: (Through interpreter) I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do that on my behalf. And I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports.

FUTTERMAN: So you can see not much wiggle room there. Ohtani accused Mizuhara of stealing and lying. He said he was shocked and saddened. What people really need to remember is that before this, Ohtani and Mizuhara were very close. Some people over the years even called them virtual best friends.

ELLIOTT: So Dodger Stadium had that preseason game last night. What did the fans have to say about all this?

FUTTERMAN: Well, Ohtani got a huge ovation when his name was announced in the starting lineup.

TODD LEITZ: Designated hitter No. 17, Shohei Ohtani.

(CHEERING)

FUTTERMAN: I spoke to Chris Franjola (ph). He is from New York, now lives in LA, a Dodger fan. His gut feeling is that Ohtani is telling the truth.

CHRIS FRANJOLA: I believe it. I'm going to say I believe it.

FUTTERMAN: Why?

FRANJOLA: Based on nothing. I mean, I feel like the other guy, his interpreter, seems - I mean, I'm hearing more and more about it. And it seems like he was a bit of a shady character. So until I hear anything else, I'm going to believe him.

FUTTERMAN: Now, another person I ran into watching the game from the stands was a former major league pitcher and broadcaster, Steve Lyons. He still has one big question.

STEVE LYONS: How did his interpreter get the money? How was he able to have access to Ohtani's accounts? Now, they're very, very close, right? So it's possible that he had free reign with some sort of bank accounts that Ohtani had.

FUTTERMAN: And I think that's the key question that remains. Even if everything Ohtani said is true, wouldn't you notice millions missing from your bank account?

ELLIOTT: Oh, if I had millions, I would certainly notice that. I take it just because Ohtani has broken his silence here, that doesn't mean this is the end of this.

FUTTERMAN: Oh, definitely not. There are still going to be those who have doubts. Now, during the past week when the story broke, you've heard so many on social media suggests that Mizuhara was part of a cover-up to protect Ohtani or simply playing the role of a fall guy. There are serious investigations underway, three of them - one by federal prosecutors into the man who ran the bookmaking operation that Mizuhara allegedly used to gamble. And Major League Baseball plus the IRS are conducting their own investigations. Now, one person, of course, we would very much like to hear from is Ippei Mizuhara. He said nothing yesterday. And Ohtani himself only read a statement. He did not take any questions.

ELLIOTT: That's reporter Steve Futterman in Los Angeles. Thank you so much.

FUTTERMAN: Thank you, Debbie.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Steve Futterman
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