Hours before the district attorney was to hold a news conference Friday on his felony allegations, Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. announced his resignation, admitting that he has long battled depression and a gambling addiction.
Shirakawa Jr. told NBC Bay Area that he planned to plead guilty to the five charges on March 18 and that he had fully cooperated with investigators.
The counts include five felonies: four felony counts of perjury, and one felony count of misappropriation of public funds. It also includes seven misdemeanor for failing to file accurate reports. The District Attorney Jeff Rosen is seeking a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
Rosen said Shirakawa will also be legally barred from holding elected office in the state of California.
"The public makes political contributions, votes and pays taxes with the expectation that their elected officials will work diligently to make the county a better place to live," Rosen said. "By abusing his power and misappropriating public money that had been entrusted to him, Mr. Shirakawa violated the law and the faith that the residents of Santa Clara County had placed in him."
Even before Rosen addressed reporters, Shirakawa Jr. had issued a public apology and explanation for his crimes.
"For years, I have suffered from depression and a gambling addiction," Shirakawa Jr. wrote in his resignation letter. "Unfortunately, my gambling addiction went untreated for too long which led to bad decisions and actions that I deeply regret."
Prosecutors allege that Shirakawa Jr. funneled about $130,000 in campaign money in and out of his personal accounts over a five-year period, which mostly went to casinos from Southern California to Vegas. He used his county credit card and filed inaccurate reports, he acknowledged in his letter.
Shirakawa Jr. said he had paid most of the money back already, and would pay the rest as well. "The charges never should have been made," he wrote. "I apologize for my actions."
A series of Mercury News articles over the last year raised questions about Shirakawa Jr. and whether he did not follow state penal code and election laws governing campaign contributions, gifts and outside employment.
He had been the subject of a DA and Fair Political Practices Commission investigations for alleged expense account abuses and failure to file campaign statements, according to the newspaper.
In light of the resignation, the board of supervisors will hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss filling the vacancy. If there is an election, it has to be held within 120 days. If there is a runoff, it has to be held within 56 days of the primary election.
Supervisor Board President Ken Yeager issued a statement following the scandal: "I am relieved that Supervisor Shirakawa has resigned. The Board of Supervisors can now begin the process of filling the vacancy and get back to the important business of the county."
He called Shirakawa Jr.'s actions "very serious," and said the DA "acted appropriately."
Supervisor Dave Cortese added in a statement: “By stepping down and pleading guilty ...Shirakawa is doing the right thing. I’ve known George for 20 years and am sorry that he got into this situation, but it’s better for us as a board and for Santa Clara County to put this cloud of controversy behind us.''
Shirakawa Jr. represents District 2, and has been a supervisor since 2008.
According to his county website, he is one of the longest running elected leaders in Santa Clara County. He started as a Franklin McKinley School District board member in 1992, and has also served as a San Jose vice mayor and councilman, and was also board president of the East Side Union High School District board of trustees in 2007.
Serving as chair of the county’s Public Safety and Justice Committee, Shirakawa Jr. said he has been a "national leader" on public safety issues ranging from his leadership on anti-gang initiatives to a county program that provides services and opportunities for those released from custody to become productive citizens in our community.
He said that he also led the effort to establish the county’s Civil Detainer Policy, widely considered a progressive policy related to the treatment of undocumented immigrants.
Shirakawa Jr.'s grandparents and parents worked in the fields of the Central Valley and taught him the importance of working hard, being responsible, and respecting others, according to his public profile. He grew up in the Sal Si Puedes neighborhood of San Jose, and followed in his father's footsteps - his father was a San Jose city councilman, too.