Rafu Staff Report

Keith Shiozaki, a former auditor at Pricewaterhouse Coopers, has been named interim deputy director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo.

Greg Willis in the Nisei Week Grand Parade on Aug. 12. (Photo by J.K. Yamamoto/Rafu Shimpo)

The JACCC Board of Directors made the announcement on its website on Thursday following the sudden resignation of Greg Willis, president and CEO, after it was revealed that he had been convicted and sentenced in absentia in France of misuse of funds resulting in the sudden closure of auto-parts plants and the layoff of hundreds of workers in 2009.

“The board has appointed Keith Shiozaki as interim deputy director. The board expresses its appreciation to the dedicated staff, members, supporters, tenants and community friends for their continued support. A search for a new president and CEO will be announced in the future,” the board said in a letter to members, supporters and community friends.

There were no additional details on how the JACCC will move forward in the wake of Willis’ departure. Questions remain as to how the executive search firm hired by JACCC failed to find details about Willis’ past that were readily available on the Internet.

According to his LinkedIn page, Shiozaki worked until last August at Yoshinoya America, the American subsidiary of the Japanese restaurant chain known for its beef bowls. He was employed at Yoshinoya from 1986 to August 2011 in finance and treasury management and has extensive experience in accounting, budgeting and financial reporting.

Shiozaki worked at PriceWaterhouseCoopers for three years (1981-84) and earned his CPA certification there. He received an economics degree in 1978 from UCLA.

He is the younger brother of Cory Shiozaki, director of “The Manzanar Fishing Club.” The Rafu made several calls to Keith Shiozaki, who was unavailable for comment.

In France, Journal L’union — which ran a banner-headline story Wednesday about Willis living in Los Angeles and working at the JACCC — ran follow-up stories on Thursday and Friday.

Yannick Langrenez, the spokesman for former Thomé Génot employees, told the newspaper he was not that surprised to learn about Willis’ whereabouts. He said he had already been contacted by an English journalist from the BBC who was investigating Los Angeles-based Catalina Capital Advisors, which was headed by Willis and was implicated in the abrupt shutdown of auto-parts plants in France and Canada.

Langrenez said he hoped “to recover money owed by this individual” and noted, “At the time when Greg Willis was sentenced by the Criminal Court in Rheims, the French justice minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, stated that no request for extradition of a U.S. citizen had ever been rejected. We count on the new government to show the same determination.”

Although the former workers’ association was dissolved in October 2011, Langrenez said that they will monitor developments and may become involved in any legal proceedings.

If Willis were brought before the French courts, he said, “It is obvious that it will not replace lost jobs. For former Thomé Génot employees, it does not change anything. But morally, it is important. For peace of mind, it would be good …”

L’union subsequently reported on Willis’ departure from the JACCC with this headline: “The Former Boss of Thomé Génot Fired by His Employers.” An image of an online article from L.A. Weekly was captioned, “Big Trouble in Little Tokyo – Vive la France!”

“Forced to admit that he is the subject of an international arrest warrant, he was forced to resign,” the newspaper said, adding that “the revelation of his French criminal record, his conviction and his flight” meant that keeping him as the head of JACCC would be “unbearable for the Japanese American community.”

An article about Greg Willis' resignation published in L'union on Aug. 24.

According to a source, Willis told a JACCC staffer, “It’s been good working with you” before leaving the building. L’union suggested that this was “a feeling not really shared by employees of the community center” as at least eight staff members had resigned or been laid off since Willis took over. The “hostile work environment” is “not surprising when one knows how he treated workers in France and in Canada,” the newspaper said.

L’union said it had been contacted by Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress (NCRR) regarding the allegations against Willis, “and we were pleased to confirm their suspicions, (providing) photos and supporting documents.” NCRR then presented its findings to JACCC’s board. (The Rafu has learned that NCRR will be releasing a statement shortly.)

The newspaper also credited Rachel Roh, who posted an article on Facebook, and Dennis Romero, who wrote the L.A. Weekly story, with adding to the pressure that led to the resignation of “rogue boss” Willis.

NCRR was quoted as saying that Willis might be “on the run” and asking why French and U.S. authorities have not apprehended him.

In a separate article, L’union interviewed Arnaud Baleste, a security official at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. He confirmed that he has been following the case since France sent the extradition request to the U.S.

While the news caused a lot of commotion in Los Angeles, he said, “with regard to extradition, it will not change things. (But) it is always good in this type of case to make noise. Personally, I cannot interfere in the negotiations. There is a liaison magistrate who takes care of these issues … I am here to make the link between the French and American judicial authorities. I work for international cooperation. I can only say that negotiations are ongoing and long-standing.”

Baleste noted that Willis “has never hidden” from the authorities.

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