Santa Clara County Supervisor Shirakawa Guilty of Misusing Public Money and Campaign Funds

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SAN JOSE — The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office on March 1 charged County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. with five felonies: four counts of perjury and one count of misappropriation of public funds, as well as seven misdemeanors for failing to file accurate campaign reports.

George Shirakawa

The 51-year-old, who has served as president of the Board of Supervisors, engaged in a persistent pattern of misusing public money and campaign funds for prohibited expenses, including parties golf outings and gambling.

Shirakawa has agreed to plead guilty to all counts and hand in his resignation from the Board of Supervisors to the county clerk.

He will be arraigned before Judge Philip Pennypacker on March 18 at 1:30 p.m. in Department 23. Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery will ask the court for substantial jail time.

“The public makes political contributions, votes and pays taxes with expectations that their elected officials will work diligently to make this county a better place to live,’’ District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “By abusing his power and misappropriating public money that had been entrusted to him, Mr. Shirakawa violated both the law and the faith of the residents of Santa Clara County.”

The investigation of the county official was launched late last year, after a San Jose Metro newspaper article detailed that the supervisor had neglected to file a series of campaign disclosure forms.

The four-month investigation by the District Attorney’s Office and the Fair Political Practices Commission showed that Shirakawa’s financial abuse was obscured by filing false campaign statements, or filing none at all, abetted by infrequent and cursory county oversight.

The supervisor has also agreed to sign a stipulation admitting to 10 counts of violating the Political Reform Act, by making expenditures of campaign funds for personal use, in violation of Government Code Section 89512. He has agreed to a penalty of $5,000 per count, for a total penalty of $50,000.

Supervisor’s Statement

Shirakawa issued the following statement to his constituents:

“It’s with great sadness that I announce today my resignation from the office of county supervisor. I will plead guilty on March 18, 2013, to the charges filed today by the District Attorney’s Office that are related to my campaign finance reports and inappropriate use of my county credit card.

“The charges relate to failure to file campaign finance reports, filing inaccurate reports and delayed repayment of credit card charges. Although I have previously repaid most of these credit card charges, and will repay the balance, the charges should never have been made. I apologize for my actions.

“For years, I have suffered from depression and a gambling addiction. 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. Addictive behavior is not an excuse for my conduct, there is only one person responsible for my conduct and that person is me. It has been through the treatment process that I realize that I need to accept responsibility for all of my actions. That starts today.”

“I have always worked hard to serve my community and to put their interests first.  It’s with that thought in mind, that I resign from office today.  Our community can now move forward and focus on the critical public health and safety issues that affect our families.

“This community has nurtured and raised me for 50 years and elected me for 20. I will always be grateful for the immense ongoing support from my community, and it has been an honor to work on their behalf to achieve positive improvements to their quality of life.  To all my constituents,  I am truly sorry for my actions and for any pain I have caused you.”

Supervisor Dave Cortese responded with the following statement:

“By stepping down and pleading guilty to the district attorney’s charges, Supervisor Shirakawa is doing the right thing for his constituents and the county. I’ve known George for 20 years and am sorry that he got into this situation, but it’s better for us as a board and for Santa Clara County to put this cloud of controversy behind us.

“The investigations into his alleged misuse of expense accounts, campaign finance reporting and personal spending habits were affecting his ability to represent residents of his district on issues that affect them. I strongly support Supervisor Shirakawa’s efforts to receive medical help and counseling for his depression and gambling addiction.

“I hope that we can move forward quickly to fill the District 2 seat. I will work with my colleagues as soon as possible to determine the most appropriate way to do that. In the meantime, my office is prepared to help out the District 2 residents who need information and services.”

The San Jose Mercury News, which has published a series of investigative reports on Shirakawa’s finances, called him to resign months ago, on Nov. 19: “His disregard for county policies and perhaps federal law on using taxpayers’ money for personal expenses, from first-class airfare to dinner tabs in the hundreds of dollars, make it clear that his East San Jose constituents deserve better …

“Shirakawa has had personal financial problems his whole adult life, including failure to pay taxes and child support. This was a major reason we did not recommend him for the board in November 2008, when he won a first term. He was unopposed for re-election in June.

“As a supervisor, he gets a salary of $143,031, which for many of his constituents would be like winning the lottery. But in 2011, Shirakawa filed for personal bankruptcy …

“Shirakawa’s fans say he has done great things for East San Jose as a city councilman and then as a supervisor. He is eloquent about his upbringing in the disadvantaged neighborhood. But when his defenders say the investigations and reporting about him are unfair, they’re wrong. The expense reports are public; anyone can judge for themselves whether the spending is a proper use of taxpayer funds. Cynics say ‘Everybody does it,’ but that’s not true. Other supervisors follow the rules.”

Councilman’s Son

George Shirakawa Sr. worked as a teacher and coach at Silver Creek High School, and was elected to the San Jose City Council in 1990. He died in office while running for re-election, and an elementary school is named in his memory.

In a special issue of The Hokubei Mainichi about mixed-race families, the elder Shirakawa discussed his experiences growing up as the son of a Japanese American father and a Mexican American mother. In a follow-up issue a decade later, the younger Shirakawa shared his thoughts about his multiethnic heritage.

In his State of the County speech in January 2012, George Shirakawa Jr. said, “I know first-hand what it’s like to work through difficult situations. … In the past, my family, like many families, worked hard and struggled just to get by. My mom’s family came to California from the Midwest dustbowl and worked in the fields in order to survive. More times than not, home was a labor camp on the side of a highway. My dad’s parents suffered the discrimination and humiliation forced on mixed-race families that worked on the ranches and farms of the Central Valley during the middle of last century. Our matriarch was my grandmother, who knew that the only way to ensure survival was keeping the family together.”

Shirakawa was born in Hanford in 1962 and moved to San Jose with his family in 1963. He grew up in the Sal Si Puedes neighborhood on San Jose’s east side and attended Mayfair Elementary School and Silver Creek High School (Class of 1980). Having a young family, he worked two jobs while attending college. Being the grandson of a decorated World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War veteran, he served in the Army from 1981 to 1984 and reached the rank of sergeant.

He has said that his mother, who worked a telephone operator and was a member of the Communications Workers of America, taught him the importance of hard work and the responsibilities of raising a family, and his father instilled in him the values of community service. Before becoming an elected official, he worked as a youth counselor, community liaison and football and baseball coach at Yerba Buena and Foothill high schools.

In 1992, Shirakawa was elected to the Franklin-McKinley School Board. Following his father’s death in 1994, he was appointed and later elected to the San Jose City Council, served two terms, and was vice mayor during his tenure. From 2002 to 2008, he was a trustee of the East Side Union High School District and served as board president during his tenure. He was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2008 and became board president.

He is the divorced father of four children and the grandfather of three.

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