Santa Clara County Official Faces Five Felony Counts in Wake of Metro Silicon Valley Investigation

A leading Silicon Valley political figure has resigned and is facing five felony counts following an investigation sparked by the alternative newsweekly Metro Silicon Valley.

Auditors in Santa Clara County, California ignored a pattern of expense abuse by a county supervisor. The Registrar of Voters failed to report a four-year gap in campaign filings to law enforcement, sending reminder letters instead. And the daily newspaper had stopped monitoring campaign finance statements as well. A reporter for the weekly Metro Silicon Valley noticed the gaps and asked County Board of Supervisors President George Shirakawa.

When News Editor Josh Koehn showed up for the interview, Shirakawa scratched out a list of contributions on a lined sheet of yellow paper and laughed off the missing campaign statements.

On Sept.26, Metro reported in a cover story that “$50,000 in campaign funds were paid out to a close friend, a former lover and two of his daughters.” a staff retreat in Reno that included gambling activity. “That should give you some fodder to write about,” Shirakawa said at the time.

There was more. Metro had reported on Shirakawa’s spending problem when he was a San Jose city councilman 15 years earlier in a 1997 story. that Metro published. Editor Dan Pulcrano asked Koehn to pull Shirakawa’s expenses. County documents revealed that Shirakawa had spent $36,830 in public money on items such as plane tickets, hotels, rental cars and dining since January 2009, that the expenditures included casinos and alcohol, which is expressly prohibited under county policies. Of 185 meals Shirakawa charged to the county, only three were accompanied with itemized receipts. Shirakawa filed a “Missing Receipt Memorandum” each time he documented a meal to hide the details of the consumption. Koehn and Pulcrano visited restaurants to find the details missing from county records. The findings were published in the October 12, 2012 issue of Metro.

Metro followed the story on its San Jose Inside online news site throughout the investigation. The daily San Jose Mercury News followed with a front page story on November 18, which largely drew on the information unearthed by Metro.

Today, Shirakawa was booked on five felony counts of misusing public funds and perjury. He resigned his office this morning, ending a 20-year political career.