A stunner in South Bay politics: George Shirakawa Jr., former president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, has resigned after pleading guilty to five felony counts (and many misdemeanors) relating to misuse of campaign funds and public money. Prosecutors say “the vast majority” of the funds Shirakawa misappropriated was spent on gambling junkets. In a public statement, Shirakawa says he has suffered for years from untreated depression and a gambling addiction.

San Jose Inside, which along with news partner MetroActive catalogued Shirakawa’s financial irregularities before he was re-elected to the Board of Supervisors last year, published a letter from Shirakawa to his constituents. Shirakawa, who had denied any wrongdoing, now says he has 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. I have been in ongoing medical treatment for my addiction and depression. 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.

I have always worked hard to serve my community and to put their interests first. It’s with that thought in mind, that I resign from office today. Our community can now move forward and focus on the critical public health and safety issues that affect our families. This community has nurtured and raised me for 50 years and elected me for 20. I will always be grateful for the immense ongoing support from my community, and it has been an honor to work on their behalf to achieve positive improvements to their quality of life. To all my constituents, I am truly sorry for my actions and for any pain I have caused you.

From the Merc’s story:

(Shirakawa) is charged with four felony counts of perjury, one count of misappropriation of public funds and filing false statements as well as a slew of misdemeanor charges, the district attorney’s office said Friday.

Shirakawa has gambled away tens of thousands of dollars in political donations and public funds through a pattern of “prolonged deception” that included a secret slush fund, untraceable cash income and false and perjured campaign filings.

The veteran politician, 51, is the first Santa Clara County supervisor to be charged with a felony in more than 25 years. And his felony charges in this closely watched case have stunned everyone from his colleagues to constituents — particularly those who have long viewed him as rough around the edges, but mostly well-meaning.

The District Attorney’s case outlines a five-year spree hidden from the public, during which time Shirakawa moved $130,000 in and out of campaign accounts and public funds for his personal use — the vast majority spent in casinos from southern California to Nevada.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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