SAN JOSE -- After months of scandal, defiance and excuse-making, Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr.'s political career came crashing down Friday, as the District Attorney's Office charged the veteran politician with five felonies including perjury and misappropriation of public funds that likely will land him behind bars.
In a dizzying succession of events, just hours after charges were filed, the 51-year-old supervisor announced he will plead guilty March 18 to deceiving his donors and constituents. He then immediately resigned his post. Shirakawa, who earlier accused his critics of being biased against him because he is overweight and an Oakland Raiders fan, on Friday blamed depression and a gambling addiction for his crimes.
The District Attorney's Office investigation concluded that Shirakawa gambled away more than $100,000 in political and public funds over the past five years -- a pattern of "prolonged deception" aided by a secret slush fund, untraceable cash, forged signatures and false and perjured campaign filings.
"The public makes political contributions, votes and pays taxes with the expectation 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."
Shirakawa later released a statement: "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.
"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."
Shirakawa is the first Santa Clara County supervisor to be charged with a felony in more than 25 years. The culmination of the closely watched case stunned his colleagues and constituents -- particularly those who have long viewed the leader hailing from hardscrabble East San Jose as rough around the edges, but mostly well-meaning.
"It's a sad day for the folks in Santa Clara County, and I hope from this situation the residents of District 2 will finally get a representative they deserve," said Rich Robinson, Shirakawa's former campaign consultant.
The District Attorney's Office case outlines a five-year spending spree hidden from the public, during which time Shirakawa moved $130,000 in and out of campaign accounts while milking his county credit card for personal entertainment. Shirakawa used the money for clothes, house payments and meals on the public and donors' dime. But the vast majority of the misspent funds came and went on casino floors from Southern California to Nevada.
"It's clear from reviewing his bank accounts he has a gambling habit that he hid from the public by filing false reports," said assistant district attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery, who led the investigation.
His law-breaking continued for so long, Sinunu-Towery said, because county auditors and the Registrar of Voters Office allowed the behavior. The registrar never reported Shirakawa's years of missing reports to law enforcement, and county audits were so cursory they "allowed him to hide his misuse of public funds."
"I am relieved that Supervisor Shirakawa has resigned," board President Ken Yeager said in a statement Friday, promising the board would take up the matter of his replacement as soon as Tuesday.
But for now, all eyes are on the DA's charges that describe a stunning set of misdeeds from 2008 to 2012 over Shirakawa's two campaigns for supervisor, and his two terms as an East Side Union High School District trustee. They reveal that Shirakawa:
The four-month-long joint investigation involving the DA's office and the state's Fair Political Practices Commission, which began after media reports of missing campaign statements and expense account abuse, took a dramatic turn when investigators turned up the Wells Fargo account. The DA describes that account as the "slush fund." Over two years, cash and other unreported donations came into that account, and "multiple and consistent expenditures" went out, mainly to casinos, totaling $115,000.
Another investigative coup was the interview with Shirakawa's one-time treasurer, Paz Rocha, the father of San Jose Councilman Don Rocha.
Prosecutors say Paz Rocha reported that he "never handled any of the monies associated with the campaign," and that he "also never saw a bank account statement or handled checkbooks associated with this campaign and assumed that Shirakawa was handling all financial aspects" of his school board race.
Rocha told investigators that he only recalled signing a few documents in the beginning of Shirakawa's 2002 school board campaign. When shown copies of his signature on about 15 forms from 2006 to 2012, he said not only were they not signed by him, he did not give anyone permission to sign his name during that period. A crime lab examination found they were not Rocha's "free and natural signatures."
Nonetheless, Shirakawa signed off on the Form 460s, under penalty of perjury that everything on them was factually correct.
Finally, the DA has considerably ratcheted up the consequences for Shirakawa's abuse of his county credit card, which he pulled out freely at Cache Creek, Thunder Valley and Harrah's Reno casinos, and to pay for unauthorized luxury vehicle rentals, golfing trips and meals that included alcohol.
Although Shirakawa, belatedly, reimbursed the county for some of the expenses -- so far $7,049 -- it is illegal to "borrow" from public funds, even if an elected official later reimburses those expenses.
The DA reports that in one instance, a Shirakawa staff member tried to get him to produce the required itemized receipts, to which he replied that no one needed to know whether he was "eating a steak or having a salad."
Not since 1987 has a Santa Clara County supervisor faced felony charges, and in that case, Tom Legan remained on the board while he fought a child molestation charge. Legan served out his term but lost re-election in 1988, four days after his acquittal.
Santa Clara County residents who have followed the escalating Shirakawa scandal say he deserves jail time. Shirakawa was "living a double life," and should have resigned long ago, said Betty Siemer, 75. "He really hurt the people from his district because even though they loved him and they could relate to him and he was a good old boy that went to karaoke, the truth is if they had a competent, dedicated, thoughtful man of integrity serving them, then they could have not only liked him -- they could have had a real role model."