All Ball: Shotime, Crime and Punishment in LA, Vogel back in town

Manhattan Beach resident Frank Vogel, in 2019, when he led the LA Lakers to an NBA title. Vogel spent the past year coaching the Phoenix Sun, but was fired last week. Photo by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor

Only in LA could this rapid sequence of events happen.

On Tuesday the Feds announced they had reached a plea bargain with Ippei Mizuhara, the interpreter for Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani who stole $17 million from the $700 million man to pay off his gambling debts.

Then on Thursday, just two days later, Lionsgate Television announced that it is developing a scripted series based on Mizuhara’s real-life scandal.     

Mizuhara, 39, has agreed to plead guilty to one count each of bank fraud and signing a false tax return. He faces up to 33 years in prison and has to pay back the $17 million. Where he will get that kind of money – in or out of prison – is anybody’s guess.

The charges are related to the gambling scandal that erupted two months ago, when Ohtani, baseball’s biggest star – and the most well-known athlete in the world – was dragged into a long-running investigation of an Orange County illegal bookie.

Ohtani waited during five days of public silence before he finally declared that he was totally innocent of any crime and had never bet on anything in his life. If he had bet on baseball, he would have faced a year-long suspension — and possibly much longer.

When he finally went public, Ohtani also claimed that Mizuhara had stolen money from him to pay off his gambling debts and then lied about it. Estimates of how much Mizuhara had stolen were as high as $4.5 million.

But after a month-long investigation that proved Ohtani was telling the truth, the feds revealed Mizuhara had secretly stolen more than $17 million by maintaining sole control of Ohtani’s main bank account.

He even went so far as to impersonate Ohtani in phone conversations with bank officials who were questioning huge wire transfers of money – up to $500,000 at a time.

“The extent of this defendant’s deception and theft is massive,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said. “He took advantage of his position of trust to take advantage of Mr. Ohtani and fuel a dangerous gambling habit. My office is committed to vindicating victims throughout our community and ensuring that wrongdoers face justice.”

Mizuhara, who lives in Newport Beach, was a go-between for Ohtani and his non-Japanese speaking agents and financial advisers, according to the plea agreement. Thus, he was able to keep Ohtani in the dark about his financial problems and gambling debts. He also prevented the agents and advisers from looking too deeply into Ohtani’s finances even before he signed his $700 million deal with the Dodgers last winter.

According to the plea agreement, Mizuhara obtained the login details for Ohtani’s bank account in 2018, when he translated for the superstar as he set up an account at a bank branch in Phoenix, Arizona.

Mizuhara started making illegal bets with the Orange County bookie in September 2021, and quickly went into debt when he started losing large bets.

Unable to pay his gambling debts, Mizuhara orchestrated a scheme to deceive and cheat the bank to fraudulently obtain money from the account.

Without telling Ohtani, Estrada said, Mizuhara changed the email address and phone number on file for Ohtani’s bank account, which meant bank employees would contact Mizuhara about wire transfers from the account when they were actually trying to reach Ohtani. He impersonated Ohtani more than two dozen times.

In September 2023, Estrada said, Mizuhara even stole from Ohtani after the player agreed to pay for expensive dental work. He needed $60,000 worth of work done on his teeth, and Ohtani approved payment for the procedure from a business account. But rather than use the designated dental funds, Mizuhara deposited the money in his personal bank account and paid his dentist from the Ohtani account that he secretly controlled.

Given the themes of personal betrayal, financial manipulation and stolen identity running throughout the sad story, it didn’t take long for entertainment execs to see the potential for making a buck off the story.

The series will be produced by Tony Award Winner Scott Delman, known for “The Book of Mormon” and “A Raisin in the Sun.” It will be written and co-produced by sports journalist Albert Chen.

“This is Major League Baseball’s biggest sports gambling scandal since Pete Rose – and at its center is its biggest star, one that MLB has hitched its wagon on,” Chen said. “We’ll get to the heart of the story – a story of trust, betrayal and the trappings of wealth and fame.”

Only in LA!


Welcome home Frank Vogel             

Phoenix Suns Head Coach Frank Vogel was fired Wednesday after exactly one year on the job.

The former Lakers coach, who lives in Manhattan Beach and is a familiar sight at the MB Country Club, was fired by the Lakers two years ago after three years at the Lakers helm. He won a title in his first season, but after that LeBron James gradually soured on him and so the Lakers fired him just two years after he was named the NBA Coach of the Year.

What LeBron wants, LeBron usually gets.

His single season in Phoenix must have felt like a nightmare rerun for Vogel. Only this time it was another superstar, Kevin Durant, who soured on Vogel and got him fired. 

Durant refused to speak with or interact with Vogel for the last five months of the season, which made for an awkward working relationship, to put it mildly.

And after a first-round sweep by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Durant gave an ultimatum to management: him or me.

The Suns not surprisingly chose Durant, who is still a superstar at age 35 and has a history of getting coaches fired.

Indeed, although Kyrie Irving got most of the blame for getting another Manhattan Beach guy, Steve Nash, fired as the coach of the Brooklyn Nets, Durant was the bigger star there and had to sign off on Nash’s firing. 

Nash is another guy who spends a lot of time at the MB Country Club, playing tennis and raising a family. When he runs into Vogel this summer, they’ll have a lot to discuss, like how to survive as a coach in the modern NBA.

Rule number one, rule number two and rule number three: stay on the good side of the team’s superstar.

Vogel can take solace in that a year ago he signed a four-year, $31 million contract. 

That should ease the pain of unemployment. 

Contact: ER



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