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The Journal Gazette

Monday, March 18, 2013 10:14 pm

Ex-N. Calif. politician pleads guilty to felonies

By TERRY COLLINSAssociated Press

A longtime Northern California politician pleaded guilty Monday to a dozen charges that he used campaign donations and taxpayer funds to fuel what he described as a gambling addiction.

Former Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr., entered his pleas to five felonies - including perjury and misappropriation of public funds - as well as seven misdemeanor charges, during his appearance in a San Jose courtroom.

"Guilty, your honor," Shirakawa, 51, said to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Philip Pennypacker. Shirakawa declined to comment to reporters after his hearing.

After steadfastly denying allegations, Shirakawa said earlier this month that he used campaign and county funds for personal use.

Shirakawa is due back in court on April 30 to set a sentencing date.

As part of a plea deal with Santa Clara County prosecutors, Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu-Towery said Monday that her office will request that Shirakawa serve one year in jail for inaccurately filing campaign finance reports, accepting illegal cash donations and using his county credit card for personal use.

Shirakawa resigned as county supervisor on March 1. The following week, board members voted to spend $1 million to hold a special election to replace him.

In an open letter, Shirakawa said that he filed inaccurate reports and used his county credit card to support his habit.

"For years, I have suffered from depression and a gambling addiction," Shirakawa wrote. "Unfortunately, my gambling addiction went untreated for too long which led to bad decisions and actions that I deeply regret."

According to tax records given to prosecutors by Shirakawa's lawyers on Monday, he won about $400,000 from gambling.

Prosecutors say Shirakawa moved $130,000 in and out of campaign accounts and public funds since 2008, most of it at casinos in Southern California and Las Vegas. His perjury charges date back to 2002 for filing false reports regarding five campaign bank accounts when he was elected as a trustee for a school district representing San Jose's East Side.

Shirakawa said in his March 1 resignation letter that he has paid most of the money back.

Shirakawa, a former San Jose councilman who took over his late father's seat in the 1990s, was elected to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in 2008.

In November, Shirakawa won a second term as supervisor after running unopposed while the district attorney's office investigated his alleged spending of campaign and public funds over the past decade.

Sinunu-Towery said taxpayers funded Shirakawa's casino trips, golf outings and lavish meals.

"His actions brought a lot of shame to the political community and this county," Sinunu-Towery told the Associated Press. "We hope it sends a strong message that we won't tolerate corrupt government.

"It's just a pathetic story," Sinunu-Towery said. "(Shirakawa) had the trust of a lot of people that he let down."

As part of the deal, Shirakawa will be banned from holding public office.