Shirakawa used public funds to fuel gambling habit

March 1, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The Shirakawa name is well known in San Jose. A community center is named for the late George Shirakawa Sr., a longtime member of the San Jose City Council.

But now the name of his son, Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., appears on a felony complaint that says he forged documents and used taxpayer money for personal use -- charges that could land him behind bars.

Shirakawa resigned Friday and apologized for spending public money on a personal problem. Investigators from the Santa Clara district attorney's office say Shirakawa cheated taxpayers and campaign donors by using their money as his personal piggy bank to fuel what Shirakawa admitted Friday is a gambling addiction and depression.

Shirakawa is accused of forging signatures on bank accounts, failing to file state-mandated campaign disclosure forms and creating a slush fund.

"The only person allowed to sign checks or deal with that account was George Shirakawa. He took in campaign money and he used it in casinos or for personal purposes," Deputy District Attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery said.

Investigators say Shirakawa used a county credit card at Cache Creek, Thunder Valley and Harrah's Reno casinos. They went through restaurant receipts from a trip to Washington, D.C. and found that half of a $200 tab was spent on alcohol, even though Shirakawa signed a county form claiming no alcohol was charged to taxpayers.

Evidence was laid out to Shirakawa's attorney earlier this week, and an agreement was reached that Shirakawa will plead guilty, pay $50,000 in state penalties and reimburse the county about $14,000. He has repaid $7,000 so far. He also faces jail time.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen explained why he is not seeking state prison time. "What is important to me in this case is that he step down right away, that he plead guilty to the charges, that he pay all the money back and that he spends some time behind bars. And whether that's behind bars in prison or behind bars in a local jail is not as significant to me as the fact that he spends times behind bars for these crimes," Rosen said.

Supervisors say they're sad for Shirakawa but happy taxpayers will be made whole. "I think he got himself into a trap that he couldn't get out of and so sort of continued to have the problems with the finances and in not disclosing it," Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager said.

"George, by his own acknowledgement, has some issues to deal with, personal issues that are severe. He's getting treatment. He's trying to take care of himself and get into recovery," Supervisor Dave Cortese said.

Shirakawa was booked at the county jail and released on his own recognizance. He is due in court in two weeks to enter a plea.


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