Why should voters increase the county sales tax by passing Measure A when the president of the Board of Supervisors routinely wastes taxpayer money?
It’s a simple question, which no one from the county office seems keen to answer. Metro reported this week that County Supervisor George Shirakawa repeatedly filed fraudulent expense reports, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on food and alcohol at personal dinners for his friends and political allies, renting five-star hotel rooms and luxury rental cars, and even using his county-issued credit card at casinos.
County Executive Jeff Smith has been notably silent before and after the story broke, refusing to return calls for comment. The county counsel’s office, overseen by Lori Pegg, also did not return calls for comment in the last week, which isn’t completely surprising because the county attorney’s job is not to represent the public taxpayers but instead protect the county and its administrators from legal issues.
Since the story broke, however, some people who benefited from Shirakawa’s free spending have sent, or said they plan to send, letters and reimbursement checks to the county. These people say they were not aware taxpayers would be paying for their personal meals and drinks.
This list, as of now, includes San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore, political consultant Rich Robinson, lobbyists Tom Saggau and Dustin DeRollo, and Norberto Dueñas, a deputy city manager for San Jose. Shirakawa bought several appetizers, beers and a pina colada for Dueñas and San Jose Councilmember Xavier Campos on Feb. 17 at P.F. Chang’s, according to receipts.
On his expense report to the county, Shirakawa said the P.F. Chang’s dinner was a county business meeting. He did not include an itemized receipt and in a missing receipt memorandum, Shirakawa signed a declaration that “No ALCOHOL was served.”
Moore sent a $400 check and letter to the county Tuesday, a day after he learned Shirakawa expensed part of a private dinner party the chief intended to pay for personally. Robinson sent a $70 check for two meetings he had with Shirakawa. Dueñas told San Jose Inside that he intends to send a check for the P.F. Chang’s meal and potentially a breakfast late last year at Le Boulanger.
“I didn’t know that it was being put on a county credit card,” Dueñas said about the Feb. 17 meal. “Absolutely there’s no way that I’m going to have taxpayers pay for beers.”
Campos, who declined several interview requests, has acknowledged through his staff that the meal at P.F. Chang’s was a personal dinner, and not a county business meeting. He declined comment through his office on whether or not he planned to reimburse the county for this meal and others that potentially were private in nature but expensed with Shirakawa’s county charge card.
In the two years since Campos left Shirakawa’s office, where he worked as a policy aide and received numerous staff lunches at taxpayer expense before being elected into the District 5 City Council seat, Shirakawa picked up the tab at restaurants for the pair nine times. Only two of these meetings were noted on Campos’ city calendar, one of which seems to have occurred at Shirakawa’s office.
The lobbyist team of Tom Saggau and Dustin DeRollo, who often represent labor unions and had their own story of the week, met with Shirakawa together or individually at restaurants a total of seven times since December 2011. The pair could not reconcile any of the dates as county business meeting. Saggau issued the following statement:
“Both Dustin and I have had several county business related meetings with Supervisor Shirakawa, some over meals. We represent county Registered Nurses, Rural/Metro, IFPTE Local 21 and the Government Attorneys Association and actively participate in their contract negotiations and work on issues related to county policies and the county budget, on their behalf. While we don’t have written records of the meeting dates provided to us by the Metro, we don’t dispute that they occurred and they were business related. Having said that, we will reimburse the county for our portion of the meals.”
District Attorney Jeff Rosen and his deputy Jay Boyarsky took a meeting with Shirakawa on Nov. 14, 2011, at Fourth Street Bowl, which the DA’s Office told San Jose Inside dealt with topics such as civil detainers and the budget. The DA issued this statement regarding Metro‘s report:
“This office takes seriously its commitment to diligently investigate allegations of public integrity violations. We are fair and deliberate in our considerations and communications. We will publicly report our findings only after they are carefully made.”
Gary Winuk, chief investigator for the Fair Political Practices Commission, which along with the DA is already investigating Shirakawa after Metro reported that the supervisor failed to file campaign disclosure forms since coming into office in 2008, said his office probably won’t look into this report.
“This one is more of a criminal deal and internal policy deal than ours, but it seems to fit a pattern,” Winuk said.
George Sanchez, a Franklin McKinley school board member and close friend of Shirakawa’s, has met the supervisor for county expensed lunches and dinners more than anyone else over the last four years. Shirakawa treated his friend to meals at Great Wall, Chevy’s, El Pirrin, Famous Dave’s and other restaurants, racking up a grand total of $668.41 from 17 entries.
Sanchez said Shirakawa always insisted on paying the bill, but the meals were necessary to conduct county business.
Gene Van Horn, a resident of Willow Glen, CC’d Metro on a letter he sent this week to Supervisor Ken Yeager after reading the report. The letter criticizes the actions not only of Shirakawa, but also the county controller Marilou Mutuc, whose office audited Shirakawa’s county credit card purchases twice but found no serious irregularities—despite noting that Shirakawa was missing itemized receipts. Exploiting a loophole in county policy, Shirakawa submitted just three itemized receipts from his 185 meals expensed to the county.
Here is Van Horn’s letter:
Please support/initiate the removal of Shirakawa as the president of the board and remove him of all his duties. He is, in my opinion, not fit to be the president of the board.
Treasurer Marilou Mutuc appears not to have done her job when she audited Shirakawa’s p-card. I can only guess she does not want to bite the hand that feeds her. Perhaps an outside auditor free from politicians will serve the public better than a government employee.
A response will be appreciated.
Gene Van Horn
Resident of Willow Glen