Ex-county supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. attempted to pull political strings from jail last year, according to new court filings from his mail fraud trial.
Shirakawa stands accused of one count of false personation, after his DNA was found on a forged 2010 political mailer that cast Magdalena Carrasco as a proud communist. Carrasco was running for San Jose City Council against Shirakawa’s close friend, Xavier Campos, and the mailer was designed to appear as if it had come from her campaign.
In a letter dated March 11, 2014, to his longtime girlfriend Linda Delgado, Shirakawa asked her to contact Campos, who was a councilman by this time; State Assemblywoman Nora Campos, Xavier’s sister; and Neil Struthers, Nora’s husband and former construction and trades council boss. Shirakawa wanted them to help Maya Esparza, his cousin, in her San Jose council race.
“I need you to do a favor for me, I don’t want to talk on the phone,” Shirakawa wrote. “Can you please call Neil (phone number redacted) & Xavier and tell them I need them and Nora to help Maya. I’m really pissed! Tell them I don’t care about politics or if they don’t like her. I’m personally asking … OK … Do it as soon as you get this OK please.”
He added as a postscript, “Tell Xavier I’m really upset!!!”
In a trial brief, Deputy District Attorney John Chase suggested that Shirakawa didn’t want to talk by phone “likely because every jail telephone call begins with a warning that calls are subject to monitoring and recording.” He added that a $5,000 check Nora Campos wrote to Shirakawa in 2010, just weeks after the fraudulent mailer was sent, could be seen as a payoff.
“The fact that the defendant believed he could demand help from these three individuals shows how close he was to them and further reinforces that he had a motive to commit this crime to help Xavier Campos finish first in the primary,” Chase wrote.
While being booked in 2013 on charges that he illegally funneled $130,000 in campaign contributions to a secret slush fund, which led to his incarceration for a little more than six months, a DNA swab was taken from inside of Shirakawa’s cheek. That DNA created a hit in state database that came from the stamp of one of the fraudulent mailers to help Xavier Campos defeat Carrasco by just 20 votes in the 2010 primary.
Xavier Campos refused to testify on the matter in a subsequent grand jury hearing, and his attorney, former Superior Court judge Gregory Ward, argued Monday that a subpoena calling him to testify in the trial should be quashed. A decision on that motion could come as soon as Thursday, as will an offer from the District Attorney’s office that Xavier Campos would be granted immunity in exchange for his testimony. Ward said in court Monday that his client intends to invoke the Fifth Amendment again if called to the witness stand, which could set up a standoff in coming weeks.
Chase said in court filings Monday that Campos should not be allowed to invoke the Fifth Amendment for all questions, as he did at his grand jury hearing, because the 4-year statute of limitations has passed for the false personation charge leveled against Shirakawa. Chase added that any fears of federal charges being filed against Xavier Campos if his testimony were to lead to self-incrimination are unfounded, even though federal mail fraud has a 5-year statute of limitations. (In this instance, the statute expires in May.) Chase argued that such a charge would require an intent to “deprive another of property or honest services,” which the fraudulent postcards allegedly produced by Shirakawa were “plainly not designed to” do.
The case, being heard by Judge Ron M. Del Pozzo, is expected to last several weeks.
Many details of the case were made public after transcripts from the 2013 grand jury hearing were unsealed, but records filed Monday provided new insight into just how much evidence the prosecution intends to present.
During a search of Shirakawa’s home on the eve of Thanksgiving 2013, investigators found handwritten meeting notes related to Xavier Campos’ 2010 campaign, potential donor lists, endorsement cards, precinct walk maps, questionnaires and printed materials that appeared to match those used for the fraudulent mailers attacking Carrasco.
But perhaps more unsettling, Chase wrote in an opposition to Xavier Campos’ motion quash a trial subpoena, investigators found in Shirakawa’s bedroom “printed maps to Magdalena Carrasco’s home and to the home of her parents, as well as Google Street View photographs of those homes.”
Additionally, Chase said, investigators found “a political postcard featuring images of the same flag of communist Vietnam that appears in the falsely personating political postcards in this case.”
The prosecution’s trial brief mentions other evidence seized from Shirakawa’s home, including a scrapbook of sorts from the ex-supervisor’s 2008 race against Richard Hobbs.
In addition to mailers, news articles and campaign literature related to the race, the binder also included a mailer that linked Hobbs to the communist party, similar to the fraudulent mailer that went out two years later against Carrasco. Delgado told DA investigators that the binder belonged to Shirakawa.
Shirakawa continues to be represented by Jay Rorty through the public defender's indigent defense services, as well as contracted DNA legal specialist Bicka Barlow. The pair filed motions asking for all DNA evidence to be thrown out, as well as the exclusion of other mailers connected to the 2010 campaign.
The pretrial resumes Thursday morning.