WA governor candidate Semi Bird says ‘no excuse’ for financial crime

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Semi Bird pleaded guilty in 1993 to a misdemeanor count of bank larceny for lying on a credit application by using the name and Social Security number of his father, records show.

According to the previously unreported federal conviction, Bird, then 30 and living in Sunnyside, Yakima County, falsified a 1991 credit application “with intent to steal and purloin” funds from U.S. Bank.

Under the plea agreement, signed May 11, 1993, Bird, whose full name is Misipati Semi Bird, was sentenced to two years of probation and agreed to pay restitution of $1,963 and a fine of $500.

In an interview Tuesday, Bird, now 63, said he makes no excuses for the mistake decades ago.

“Guilty as charged — 100%,” he said. “It was wrong.”

He said he was estranged from his father at the time and was “bitter” and “angry” and “tried to justify” his actions, but said ultimately “there was no excuse.”

Under the plea deal, Bird accepted prosecutors’ charge that he had falsely given his name on the credit application as “Misipati Bird Lavatai” and used the Social Security number of his father, Misipati Peletisara Lavatai.

The charge carried maximum penalties of one year in jail and a $100,000 fine, which were reduced as a part of the plea deal.

Bird, a former Richland School Board member and military veteran, has generated support from grassroots Republican activists in his campaign for governor and is vying with former U.S. Rep. and King County Sheriff Dave Reichert for the state GOP’s official endorsement at a convention this week in Spokane.

This is his first run for statewide office.

Bird and two other Richland School Board members were recalled by voters last summer in response to their 2021 vote to flout the state’s indoor masking mandate by making masks optional in local schools.

The bank larceny conviction came during a difficult period in Bird’s life, including other legal problems and debts which have been publicly reported and circulated by Reichert supporters who say Bird has too much baggage to be the GOP’s gubernatorial standard-bearer this fall against Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the leading Democratic contender.

In 1996, Bird was arrested and charged with felony theft for failing for many months to return a pistol he’d been issued as a Yakima County sheriff reserve officer after departing the role. The charge was later dismissed after the gun was found and returned. In 1999, he filed for bankruptcy.

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The bank larceny plea agreement also prohibited Bird from possessing a firearm while on probation, but included a handwritten notation adding “except as required as a condition of his employment.”

He emphasized that he worked hard to redeem himself, enlisting in the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. and earning commendations for valor in combat, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart — awards confirmed by military records. He later went on to work at the U.S. Department of Energy and started a leadership training company.

“There was a dark period of time when my irresponsibility shined through,” Bird said Tuesday.

But, he said, “I am a different man. I am happy. I am financially independent. I have perfect credit. I have a beautiful house.” By the time his father died in 2013, Bird said the two had reconciled and “he died proud of me.”

His past struggles, Bird said, only solidify his intent “to represent every single underdog out there” in his campaign for governor.

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