Supervisor Shirakawa resigns, agrees to plead guilty to perjury, other charges

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SAN JOSE (Bay City News) — Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa resigned March 1 in light of a 12-count criminal complaint charging that he used more than $130,000 in public and campaign funds for personal use and to gamble at casinos over the past five years, authorities said.

Shirakawa, 51, was charged Feb. 28 in Santa Clara County Superior Court with four felony counts of perjury, felony misuse of public funds and seven misdemeanors for filing inaccurate campaign and government finance reports.

Shirakawa surrendered at the Santa Clara County Jail the morning of March 1, was booked and then released on his own recognizance without bail, said Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery, who coordinated the case against him.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen said at a news conference on the afternoon  of March 1 that as part of a detailed pact with prosecutors, Shirakawa agreed to resign from office March 1 and plead guilty to all 12 criminal charges.

Shirakawa also agreed to pay $50,000 in fines for 10 violations of California laws governing political campaign reporting and to repay Santa Clara County about $6,000 in unlawful expenses he charged on his county credit card, Rosen said.

“He will be legally barred forever from holding elected office in the state of California,” Rosen said.

Shirakawa will be arraigned on the criminal charges on March 18, will offer his guilty plea and a sentencing date will be set where prosecutors plan to argue he be sent to jail “for a substantial period of time, up to one year,” Rosen said.

“The public makes political contributions, votes and pays taxes with the expectation that their elected officials will work diligently to make the county a better place to live,” Rosen said.

“By abusing his power and misappropriating public money that had been entrusted to him, Mr. Shirakawa violated the law and the faith that the residents of Santa Clara County had placed in him,” he said.

Shirakawa, a former school board member and San Jose city councilman who ran unopposed for his second term as supervisor last November, announced his resignation amid news reports about the charges.

He confirmed that he plans to plead guilty to the charges and cited depression and a gambling addiction for his actions.

“Unfortunately, my gambling addiction went untreated for too long which led to bad decisions and actions that I deeply regret. I have been in ongoing medical treatment for my addiction and depression,” Shirakawa said in the statement announcing his resignation.

“Addictive behavior is not an excuse for my conduct, there is only one person responsible for my conduct and that person is me,” he said.

Michael Brown, an investigator for the district attorney’s office, said in an affidavit released in support of Shirakawa’s arrest warrant that “in the last five years, Shirakawa moved more than $130,000 in and out of campaign accounts and public money accounts for personal purpose.”

About $115,000 of those funds came from transactions at casinos in California and Nevada that were left unreported by Shirakawa on his campaign account for his bid for supervisor from 2008 to last September 27, Brown stated.

Prosecutors alleged that Shirakawa filed false reports for five campaign bank accounts starting in 2002 when he was elected to the board of trustees for the East Side Union School District. The accounts included unreported casino transactions in 2008 and 2009 and a so-called private “Slush Fund” opened from 2010 to 2012 for his supervisor campaign that only Shirakawa knew of that had “multiple and consistent expenditures in casinos and for personal purposes.”

The activities in the “Slush Fund” were hidden from the public because Shirakawa did not file required state campaign statements for his supervisor campaign for those two years, prosecutors said.

In the first perjury count, the office stated that Shirakawa had signed under penalty of perjury in 2009 that his account at Bank of America for “George Shirakawa for School Board” had a balance of $12,399.49 in June 2008 when it in fact was overdrawn.

Shirakawa then made more than $17,000 in cash deposits into the account that were not reported in order to substantiate the false statement that the account had money in it, the affidavit states.

Shirakawa also signed off on a separate 2008 report that there were only three transactions made on the campaign account “when he knew that there were at least 20 transactions, which included cash deposits followed by expenditures at casinos,” the criminal complaint stated.

Prosecutors alleged in another perjury count that Shirakawa signed semi-annual statements to the state Fair Political Practices Commission between 2006 and last September that Paz Rocha was his campaign treasurer, but Rocha said that he had no involvement in recent years.

Rocha told the district attorney’s office that signatures indicating ‘Paz Rocha’ on 15 forms from 2006 to 2012 were not signed by him. Rocha also stated that he did not give anyone permission to sign his name on documents filed after 2005.

Prosecutors also criticized the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters Office for not doing enough to police Shirakawa when he allegedly filed false campaign spending reports with the county.

“The deception was prolonged because the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters failed to alert law enforcement of Shirakawa’s failure to file legally mandated campaign statements,” Brown stated in the affidavit.

Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager, a past critic of Shirakawa’s spending of public funds on expenses with his county credit card, said that the board would discuss the options for replacing his seat at its March 5 public meeting.

“I am relieved Supervisor Shirakawa has resigned,” Yeager said. “The Board of Supervisors can now begin the process of filling the vacancy and get back to the important business of the county.”

Yeager described Shirakawa’s actions as “very serious” and that the district attorney’s office “has acted appropriately in filing felony and misdemeanor charges.”

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted on the morning of March 5 to hold a special election on June 4 to fill Shirakawa’s seat.

The four members of the five-seat body endorsed the special election, which Yeager said would cost the county about $1 million for precinct and mail balloting.

The board will hold a second vote on the issue at its March 12 meeting before preparations can be set in motion.

District 5 Supervisor Joe Simitian said he wants to hear from people in Shirakawa’s District 2 about the election at the public meeting.

At the March 5 meeting, County Executive Jeffrey Smith said that under the county charter, the board could appoint someone who lives in District 2 to fill the empty seat until a special election is held.

None of the supervisors favored appointing someone to the seat, however, opting instead to leave the post vacant until the election.

Under the charter, the county would have until June 4 at the earliest and June 25 at the latest to hold an election, Smith said.

A runoff election would be necessary if no one received more than 50 percent of the vote, and the runoff would have to be held within 56 days after that at a cost of another $1 million, Smith said.

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