Shirakawa: 1 year in jail, 3 yrs. probation for misuse of funds

SAN JOSE (Bay City News Service) — Former Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa was sentenced Nov. 8 to a year in county jail and three years of probation for a dozen criminal charges related to his misuse of public and campaign funds.

Shirakawa, 51, dressed in a dark pinstriped suit, was led out of the courtroom by a sheriff’s deputy Nov. 8 after Santa Clara County Judge Daniel Nishigaya imposed the sentence in Superior Court in San Jose.

Nishigaya sentenced Shirakawa to the one-year jail term — with one day credit — despite pleas from attorney John Williams that his client had a gambling addiction and deserved counseling, not a stretch in jail.

The judge also sentenced the former president of the county Board of Supervisors and San Jose city councilman to three years of supervised probation, to be served after Shirakawa completes his jail term, and six months in jail to be served concurrently.

Shirakawa, 51, resigned his District 2 county seat on March 1 after reaching a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to four felony counts of perjury, one count of felony misuse of public funds and seven misdemeanors for filing inaccurate campaign and government finance reports.

Prosecutors said Shirakawa used more than $130,000 in public and campaign funds for personal use and to gamble at casinos in California and Nevada.

He also charged thousands of dollars on his county debit card, or P-card, for years without furnishing detailed receipts to cover up personal spending and buying alcohol against county regulations, prosecutors said.

“We’re very pleased with the judge’s decision,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said outside the courthouse.

“Mr. Shirakawa stole from the public,” Rosen said. “He lied to the public and he’s been appropriately held responsible for those actions.”

Rosen said one of the reasons for punishing Shirakawa with a jail term “is to explain to the public the seriousness of the conduct and to deter others who were thinking about violating the public trust …that they will be prosecuted and held accountable and sent to jail.”

“The public has won today, and as far as we think, government’s cleaner in Santa Clara County,” said Assistant District Attorney Susan Sinunu-Towery, who argued in court today that Shirakawa serve the jail term.

“It’s a sad day,” Sinunu-Towery said. “We saw a supervisor go to jail. He should have gone to jail.”

Shirakawa attorneys Williams and Jay Rorty looked shaken as they emerged from the courtroom and declined comment.

During the sentencing hearing, Sinunu-Towery called County Executive Jeffrey Smith to testify about how Shirakawa’s actions damaged county government.

Smith said that it cost the county $131,000 to fulfill requests from law enforcement for records of Shirakawa’s spending and another $724,000 to conduct primary and general elections in District 2 so that voters could choose Shirakawa’s successor after he resigned.

The county also incurred staffing costs amounting to about $2 million, Smith said.

Sinunu-Towery asked Smith to describe the overall impact Shirakawa’s resignation had on the county.

“The process was quite difficult for the county employees and the administration,” Smith said. “It essentially sent a pall over the county. It made us look like we were involved and complicit for crimes.”

Williams made a case in favor of supervised probation over jail time for Shirakawa, saying that Shirakawa’s gambling addiction made him act the way he did with public funds and campaign account money.

His sole witness was Michele Lew, president of Asian Americans for Community Involvement, a San Jose nonprofit community service organization.

Lew said that the group wanted to have Shirakawa work as a volunteer in administration, speak to people who have gambling addictions and undergo mental health counseling there as conditions if Shirakawa were to be sentenced to probation.

“If the court mandates Mr. Shirakawa to do community service we would be willing to accept him as a court mandated volunteer,” Lew said.

Sinunu-Towery later showed a 20-minute video and audio recording as evidence, including clips showing Shirakawa’s staff members telling the district attorney’s office that he rebuffed their requests to provide itemized receipts to track his spending.

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