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Ippei Mizuhara, the former translator for Shohei Ohtani who was fired late last month amid allegations he stole millions of dollars from the baseball star's bank account to cover debts that Mizuhara owed to an illegal bookmaker, is in negotiations to plead guilty to federal crimes in connection with the purported theft, according to three people briefed on the matter.

The investigation, which began about three weeks ago after news of the alleged theft broke while Ohtani's team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, was opening its season with two games in South Korea, is rapidly nearing a conclusion, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is continuing.

A guilty plea from Mizuhara before a federal judge — likely to include an admission of a range of facts related to any illegal conduct — could confirm the account that Ohtani gave to reporters two weeks ago, in which he said he had no knowledge of what happened to the money.

Those briefed on the matter claim that prosecutors have uncovered evidence that Mizuhara may have stolen more money from Ohtani than the $4.5 million he was initially accused of pilfering, the people said. In particular, authorities think they have evidence that Mizuhara was able to change the settings on Ohtani's bank account so Ohtani would not receive alerts and confirmations about transactions, the three people said.

Ohtani's lawyers initially alerted federal authorities about the alleged theft, and Ohtani pledged publicly to cooperate with the federal investigation and one being conducted by Major League Baseball. According to one of the people briefed on the investigation, federal authorities interviewed Ohtani in recent weeks to learn more about his relationship with Mizuhara.

By quickly pleading guilty, Mizuhara would increase his chances of receiving a more lenient sentence, as federal prosecutors and judges often look more favorably upon defendants who make the government's job easier by expeditiously admitting their guilt.

Little is known about where Mizuhara has been since the Dodgers fired him. Upon returning to California from South Korea, Mizuhara was stopped by law enforcement officials after getting off the plane, the three people said. It's unclear what Mizuhara told authorities in their interaction, but he was not arrested.

Mizuhara has hired Michael Freedman, a former federal prosecutor in Los Angeles who specializes in white-collar criminal defense. Freedman declined to comment.

The investigation has been jointly led by the Los Angeles offices of the IRS' criminal division and the Department of Homeland Security, along with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

A spokesperson for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment. Matthew Hiltzik, a spokesperson for Ohtani, referred to the player's detailed explanation he gave to the media two weeks ago, when Ohtani said Mizuhara had stolen from him and he promised to cooperate fully with the federal and MLB investigations.

"I never bet on baseball or any other sports or never have asked somebody to do that on my behalf," Ohtani said. "And I have never went through a bookmaker to bet on sports. Up until a couple days ago, I didn't know this was happening."

The allegations about the theft surfaced when the Dodgers were in Seoul to open the season with games against the San Diego Padres. Interest in the team has been intense since it signed Ohtani to a 10-year, $700 million contract in December. But as he and his new teammates were preparing for their opening games, reporters began asking about suspicious wire transfers from Ohtani's account that had surfaced in a federal investigation of an alleged bookmaker. Rather than inform Ohtani personally, the superstar's agent and Mizuhara tried to manage the crisis themselves.

Mizuhara, communicating with the agent, Nez Balelo, offered different versions of what had happened. First, Mizuhara said Ohtani had paid the debts of an unnamed teammate, then he said that he himself had racked up debts with the bookie and that Ohtani had bailed him out. The shifting stories alarmed executives in MLB, who worried that Ohtani might be tarnished by a connection to gambling.

Once executives with the Dodgers and MLB learned of the wire transfers — but with Ohtani still in the dark — the Dodgers asked Mizuhara to address the team in the clubhouse after the first game in Seoul. He told the team that he had a gambling addiction and was deep in debt, and that Ohtani, his close friend for years, had paid the debts.

At that point, Ohtani, who is not fluent in English but can understand the gist of some conversations, became suspicious. After Mizuhara's clubhouse address, Ohtani told reporters, he confronted Mizuhara back at the team hotel. It was then, Ohtani said, that Mizuhara told him that he had stolen the money from his account. The Dodgers promptly fired him.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.