UPDATE: As of the end of business Tuesday, Feb. 19, Supervisor George Shirakawa still had not repaid the misused funds he was ordered to repay by county audits completed in December, according to county officials. The deadline for Shirakawa to reimburse $12,237.09 in charges he made with his county charge card was last Friday, Feb. 15. See below for previously reported details.
George Shirakawa has a reputation for missing important deadlines. It then comes as little surprise that the county supervisor under investigation for his misuse of county funds ignored Friday’s due date to reimburse roughly $12,500 in charges.
Shirakawa also blew off an extension he was given to Monday, according to County Executive Jeff Smith, who said that Eddie Garcia—Shirakawa’s chief of staff—provided an explanation for the supervisor’s failure to return the funds the county wants back.
“We got an email from Eddie saying that George needed to get the check from his accountant and that the accountant was closed on Monday because of the holiday, so he’ll get back to us tomorrow,” Smith said Monday evening.
A December audit of Shirakawa’s county charge card, or P-Card, found that more than half of the $36,837 in purchases he made during his first four years as supervisor violated county rules and regulations. As of Dec. 20, Shirakawa had repaid $7,252.51, with more than half of those reimbursements coming in October—after Metro and San Jose Inside began making Public Records Act requests into his P-Card account in September 2012.
Investigative reports published by Metro and San Jose Inside in September and October revealed that Shirakawa consistently missed campaign disclosure form deadlines and also used his P-Card for trips to casinos, golf outings, plane tickets, expensive dinners and alcohol. The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission and the District Attorney’s office subsequently began separate investigations.
Irene Lui, controller-treasurer for the county, said Friday that Shirakawa’s office informed her that a reimbursement payment would come in today, Feb. 18. Lui did not confirm the exact amount of that money Shirakawa owes the county treasury, but based on records provided by the county counsel’s office, Shirakawa appears to be on the hook for $12,569. This does not include the $29,540 of county funds Shirakawa and his staff were ordered to reimburse for inappropriate payments and charitable contributions in a follow-up audit.
Smith, who has been criticized for his and other department heads’ inadequate oversight of Shirakawa’s private use of tax dollars, acknowledged last week that Shirakawa was not expected to meet the deadline for repayment, and “typically we would start collections the day after” a deadline. That would have been today.
However, Smith doesn’t seem keen on that idea.
“I think this is a little different than a regular debt to the county,” Smith said. “It’s an elected official, so think I need to get the board to weigh on how they’ll proceed.”
Asked whether Shirakawa, who filed for personal bankruptcy in 2011, should be allowed to continue making financial decisions on the county’s behalf, considering his personal and professional behavior shows a pattern of fiscal recklessness, the county’s CEO said: “Well, that’s, as they say, a question above my pay grade.”
Smith makes an annual salary of $310,000. When reminded that he’s the county’s highest-paid employee (other than Valley Medical Center physicians), so the pay grade stops with him, he clarified: “Well, the question of should things happen, that’s really up to the elected (officials). That’s not up to me.”
An interesting detail regarding the manner in which the county is recollecting misused funds is that Shirakawa is getting a free pass on some of his expenditures.
For example, the county has received reimbursements totaling $1,647.18 from people who say they were unaware Shirakawa paid for their food, drinks and lodging with county funds. According to Smith, Shirakawa will be forgiven that part of the debt.
“The county is really just interested in getting county refunds,” Smith said. “Whatever source it comes from is fine in satisfying the need.”
If that’s the case, this would lower Shirakawa’s past-due reimbursement total to $10,921.82. That means people who Shirakawa treated to lunches and dinners with county funds would wind up retroactively paying for their meals.
Former San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore sent the county a check for $400 in November, which covered a portion of a dinner his command staff shared with Shirakawa at the Fairmont’s Grill on the Alley; Norberto Dueñas sent a check for $33 that same month, covering food and alcoholic beverages Shirakawa bought with his P-Card before making a fraudulent declaration on his missing itemized receipt form that no alcohol was served; San Jose Councilmember Xavier Campos reimbursed the county for $150 to cover 10 different meals, although there were far more when Campos was his policy aide; and former lobbyist colleagues Joe Guerra, Tom Saggau and Dustin DeRollo reimbursed the county with checks of $27.23, $122.45 and $184.09, respectively.
Even San Jose’s acting police chief, Larry Esquivel, who is a close friend of Shirakawa’s, reimbursed the county for $100 on Dec. 12, 2012.
In an interview last week, Esquivel refused to discuss Shirakawa; why they met for meals on three separate occasions, according to Shirakawa’s expense reports; how the meals were paid for at the time and why he decided to write a reimbursement check for $100.
In an article published Saturday by the Mercury News, Esquivel is noted as formerly sharing ownership of property with Shirakawa in San Jose. Shirakawa also managed to suck out the equity of a home he and his siblings inherited from their deceased mother.
While rumors continue to circulate about when the DA and FPPC will complete their investigations, the costs to the county continue to mount. Smith estimated the total expense of auditing, investigating and responding to media requests regarding Shirakawa has grown to “probably more than $400,000.”