Judge Daniel T. Nishigaya on Friday sentenced Shirakawa, who pleaded guilty this spring to five felonies and seven misdemeanors, to a year behind bars, minus one day served. Following the ruling, he was immediately escorted out of court and taken into custody. A source within the county Sheriff’s Office tells San Jose Inside that Shirakawa will spend his time behind bars in Alameda County. He will receive probation for three years following his release.
“We agree with the judge’s decision,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said after the trial’s conclusion. “We think that’s an appropriate sentence for his conduct. He stole from the public.”
In a sentencing hearing that lasted a little more than four hours, prosecutor Karyn Sinunu-Towery tied evidence together in a Power Point and video presentation titled “Public Lies, Public Deception, and False Promises.” Shirakawa abused the public trust throughout his 20 years in elected office and continued to lie up to his sentencing, she argued.
“Even today he is deceiving the court,” Sinunu-Towery said, noting the way he funneled campaign cash in out of a secret bank account. “This is much more like laundering.”
Along with detailing Shirakawa’s maneuvering of campaign funds and lavish use of a county charge card, Sinunu-Towery showed videotaped interviews she and DA investigator Michael Brown conducted with members of Shirakawa’s county staff, political consultant Rich Robinson and former Police Chief Chris Moore. Each testimony was more damning than the last.
Two members of Shirakawa’s staff, Marissa Ybarra and Andrea Flores-Shelton, said they were uncomfortable with him charging the county for staff birthday and Christmas parties. They were unable to get the former supe to turn in required itemized receipts, despite repeated requests.
Eddie Garcia, Shirakawa’s county chief of staff, said he also struggled to get his boss to turn in itemized receipts but never questioned the legitimacy of the charges. “I didn’t ask, he didn’t tell,” Garcia said.
Robinson said he reimbursed the county when Metro and San Jose Inside first reported Shirakawa’s misuse of a county charge card for meals that were not related to county business. In fact, Robinson said, their meetings were about getting Shirakawa to pay off old campaign debts.
Perhaps most interesting of the DA’s witness testimony was a conversation with Moore, who detailed a dinner for his command staff at the Fairmont Grill on the Alley. Shirakawa and Councilman Xavier Campos came to the party with current Police Chief Larry Esquivel, Moore said, which is why he allowed them to join.
Shirakawa and Esquivel are “old high school buddies,” Moore added, and he didn’t want to turn away the president of the Board of Supervisors. When the check came due, Shirakawa offered to pay a large share of the bill—more than $500. Moore said he was uncomfortable with that but allowed Shirakawa to pay to avoid a dispute.
To date, Esquivel has refused to answer questions about why he reimbursed the county for meals paid by Shirakawa, or what kind of relationship he has had with the former county supervisor.
In a written statement Shirakawa provided to the court, he cited his depression and gambling addiction as the reasons he siphoned more than $130,000 of campaign funds, misspent taxpayer dollars on vacations and lavish meals, and perjured himself when signing campaign disclosure forms. He said the stress of serving his community worsened his addiction.
“That is almost like an Alice in Wonderland statement,” Sinunu-Towery said in court Friday. “It’s a public deception he committed.”
The prosecution called County Executive Jeff Smith to the stand to testify on the county’s behalf as a victim. In his testimony, Smith said the county spent at least $724,000 to hold two elections to fill Shirakawa’s seat, and redirected another $2 million in staff resources. In August, Cindy Chavez won the runoff and now represents District 2.
Additionally, county staff was inundated with public records act requests by the DA and media. “The public records act requests were voluminous,” Smith said. “To the best of our knowledge, the cost was $131,000.” Meanwhile, the county created new “reform efforts” that include opening up supervisor calendar and more thorough audits of travel and expenditures by elected officials.
In her closing arguments, Sinunu-Towerynoted that because of Shirakawa’s resignation and plea deal, East San Jose residents had no representation in the latest county budget negotiations, as well as no voice in selecting the next county counsel or public defender.
Defense attorney John Williams argued that Shirakawa’s “underlying psychological problems,” mainly depression, caused his gambling addiction to spiral out of control. Disagreeing with the prosecution, Williams said Shirakawa’s decision not to file campaign disclosure forms were unsophisticated attempts to cover up his addiction rather than perpetrate crimes.
“He will always be disgraced former supervisor George Shirakawa,” Williams said while asking the judge for leniency. “No matter what he does.”
Nishigaya acknowledged Shirakawa’s addiction when passing down his sentence, but he noted the immense damage he caused in breaking the public trust. It cannot be “calculated to its full extent,” Nishigaya said.
While Sinunu-Towery, who will retire at the end of this year, said she was satisfied with the verdict. But, she added, that “it’s a sad day for the county.” Rosen agreed with his deputy and noted the significant message the verdict and immediate jail sentence sends.
“I think it was important he was remanded today so the public sees he was held responsible,” Rosen said. “He stole, he committed perjury and leaves punished and sent to jail”
Shirakawa, who has also been indicted in a political mail fraud scandal, will be due back in court next month.