Ex-Supe Shirakawa pleads no contest to false impersonation charges

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SAN JOSE —  Former Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Feb. 23 pleaded no contest to falsely impersonating a 2010 campaign committee and will be sentenced to community service if he submits a statement explaining his role in the crime, a prosecutor said Feb. 24.

Shirakawa’s plea came during a hearing late in the afternoon Feb. 23 in Superior Court in San Jose after his attorneys and a prosecutor discussed his case in the chambers of Judge Ron Del Pozzo, who offered a proposed sentence to resolve the case, Deputy District Attorney John Chase said.

Judges have the legal discretion to settle a case by giving what is called an indicated sentence “to avoid a trial if the judge thinks it’s necessary,” Chase said.

The sentence Del Pozzo suggested was community service with no jail time, but only if Shirakawa writes a statement for the record describing how his DNA appeared on phony campaign mailers sent out in 2010 to discredit San Jose City Council candidate Magdalena Carrasco.

Shirakawa conferred with his lawyers and then agreed to change his not guilty plea to the felony charge of impersonating Carrasco’s campaign committee while Carrasco was running for council District 5 against Shirakawa’s former aide Xavier Campos, Chase said.

Chase said he felt good about the outcome of the case due to “just the fact that he is admitting to the crime” and that it “validates the work the crime lab did.”

Shirakawa, whose sentencing hearing on his felony conviction will take place on March 20, faced up to three years in prison on the charge.

The district attorney’s office investigated Shirakawa leading up to a grand jury indictment of him on the charge on Oct. 24, 2013.

Under the sentencing agreement, prior to the March 20 hearing, Shirakawa will have to provide the letter to be released into the public court record saying why his DNA was detected on the fake campaign mailer, Chase said.

“The judge wants his statement of his involvement in the crime,” he said. “Did he create the mailers, did he send them, was he in an assembly line?

“He has to explain what his role was, in other words, how his DNA got there,” he said.

The sentence agreement is even better than a guilty verdict because that can be appealed without an admission of guilt, but “now the county knows absolutely he did it,” Chase said.

“I’m very satisfied with the ending,” he said.

Shirakawa’s change of plea came hours after a hearing Feb. 23 when his lawyers filed motions with exhibits seeking to exclude DNA evidence prosecutors claim implicated Shirakawa in political flyers mailed during the 2010 council campaign to trick Vietnamese voters into believing Carrasco supported the Communist regime in Vietnam.

The mailer included a photo of Carrasco beside a Communist Vietnamese flag that is offensive to many former residents of Vietnam in the United States, including many Vietnamese American voters in District 5.

Printed on the flyers was a campaign group, “Neighbors for Magdalena Carrasco for Council 2010,” which prosecutors said Shirakawa impersonated. Weeks after the flyers were mailed, Carrasco fell just 20 votes behind Campos in the primary election.

Shirakawa’s DNA profile came up in April 2013 as a match for DNA attached to the postage stamp from one of the mailers following a search by the state DNA Index System and examination by the county’s Laboratory of Criminalists for the district attorney’s office.

Investigators also claimed to have found evidence, including office supplies and sales receipts, in Shirakawa’s home implicating him in the production of the anti-Carrasco flyers.

Shirakawa’s defense team, led by Santa Cruz lawyer Jay Rorty, used DNA experts to write extensive reports challenging the validity of work done by the county’s Crime Lab in finding a profile matching Shirakawa’s DNA on at least one of the 2010 mailers.

Judges in previous hearings last year ruled against motions by Shirakawa’s attorneys asking to dismiss his indictment and quash a warrant to search his home. His lawyers also flirted with filing a change of venue request.

In January 2014, Chase mentioned that two of Shirakawa’s political friends, then-Councilman Campos and Campos’ sister, Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, who appeared as witnesses before the grand jury, could be used as witnesses in Shirakawa’s future trial.

On Feb. 23 an attorney for Xavier Campos filed a motion to quash a subpoena for him to testify in Shirakawa’s trial, but Del Rozzo denied it and required Campos to come to court to answer questions from Chase under oath on Feb. 19, which now will not be necessary.

Chase said that “everyone was ready to do the trial” on Feb. 23 but after the discussions in the judge’s chambers, Shirakawa agreed to the plea change in court but made no further statement.

Xavier Campos was defeated in his bid for reelection to the council by Carrasco last year.

Rorty could not be reached for comment.

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