Shirakawa and the Case of the Missing Electronic Bike Vendor

George Shirakawa Jr. shuffled out of office in disgrace two and a half years ago, but the former county supervisor’s egregious misuse of taxpayer funds created a financial odyssey so twisted that it continues to bedevil staff to this day.

Last month, the county’s Finance and Government Operations Committee (FGOC) received follow-up audits for all of Shirakawa’s purchases with taxpayer funds. It’s previously been reported that Shirakawa misspent almost $40,000 using his county-provided P-card, which is essentially a charge card. Nearly all of the policies policing such transactions have since been changed.

But at the August meeting, the FGOC requested an explanation on what happened to two electronic bicycles Shirakawa’s district office purchased and then handed over to the Sheriff’s office. The electronic bikes cost approximately $4,000 “after credit,” and they were purchased under the guise of looking for “alternative energy opportunities.” Bikes that run on human energy were apparently not considered “alternative” enough.

It seems the Sheriff’s Office tested the bikes for a month and realized it was a stupid idea. They gave them back to the vendor, but nobody realized the bikes were purchased rather than donated, according to the audit report. The vendor has since disappeared and chances of recouping the money are slim.

Will we ever know the full story? Probably not. The county counsel’s office has filed a lawsuit to try and recover $4,425 identified in the follow-up audits.

In the meantime, here’s the full summary according to a follow-up internal audit of Shirakawa’s misuse of taxpayer funds:

“At the August 13, 2015 meeting, the Finance and Government Operations Committee (FGOC) requested an explanation regarding the disposition of two electric bikes purchased by District 2 that were given to the Office of the Sheriff. At the meeting, the Controller-Treasurer could not provide sufficient information to answer concerns of the FGOC. After the meeting, the Controller-Treasurer discovered that the Office of the Sheriff thoroughly reviewed the circumstances surrounding the use and disposition of the bikes and communicated this information to Internal Audit Division staff back in 2013. In this communication, the Office of the Sheriff indicated that its staff were under the belief that the bikes were given to the Office of the Sheriff in 2009 on a trial basis and did not know that District 2 purchased them. After using the bikes for a few months, they were deemed unsuitable for law enforcement purposes. The vendor who provided the bikes was notified of this determination and was requested to pick up the bikes, which was done by the vendor. A refund of the purchase price was not attempted by the Office of the Sheriff as its staff was under the impression that the bikes were lent to it on a trial basis and were not purchased.

“In an attempt to jump start the refund process, Controller-Treasurer staff attempted to make contact with the vendor. However, staff discovered that the vendor ceased operations in 2012 per Board of Equalization records. A call to the landlord who rented space to the vendor in Sausalito, California revealed no forwarding mail address or contact information. A search for the owner of the business revealed a possible location in Mill Valley, California, but no physical or email address or phone number for the owner could be found. Therefore, there appears to be little chance of recouping the purchase price at this time, but Controller-Treasurer staff will continue to monitor social media websites to discover contact information for the owner.”

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

11 Comments

  1. No paper trail other than purchase?

    Let me get this straight: Person X in Shirakawa’s office hands over 2 electric bikes to person Y in SO with verbal ‘try it’ instructions? SO returns bikes to vendor and County Counsel’s office files to try and recover $4,425 from them?

    Was purchase subject to ’30 day no questions asked money back guarantee’? Interesting that CC believes vendor has duty to refund money.

    Seems like CC is pursuing a fool’s errand and compounding government waste.

  2. Please don’t spend $34,000 chasing a bankrupt company to retrieve $4,500. I know you like to pile on Shirakawa, but he is no longer relevant.

  3. Like the blind squirrel SJI found a nut once and won’t ever let anyone forget…

    Josh is this the important story you said SJI was busy following up on when you jumped on JMO last week?

  4. This “gift” by Shirakawa apparently happened in 2009 and nobody questioned it or asked about the bikes or a refund until 2013? It seems that government employees are loosey-goosey with taxpayer money. No surprise there. Their attitude seems to be that since it doesn’t come out of their pockets directly, why should they care?

  5. George must keep you awake at night! who gives a dam about two bikes. Tom got 6 million, Gonzales got all his friends into the chips, Reed got 48 thousand, and then became mayor. Could you entertain your self, by, never mind.

  6. Comical.

    In fact, it reminds me of the scene from the movie “The Three Amigos” where the Amigos are fired by the studio and the producer, the bellowing Harry Flugleman, orders them to return their costumes:

    “But we thought they were presents from the studio.”

  7. Lot of stuff wrong with this. You wait 4 years to exercise a 30-day returns policy guarantee and wonder why it couldn’t be exercised? No-one found anything before that? The subject was dismissed 2.5 years ago? Obviously a lot of other people in council have a lot to answer for. But the most important point – the idea of giving the Sheriffs electric bikes to do their work is deemed as ‘stupid’. Why is that? Why would it not be ‘good economics’, or ‘environmentally sound, but poorly received’. Fact is Sheriffs offices all over the planet are using e-bikes to efficiently run local accessible errands instead of using gas guzzlers to sit in the traffic for hours. Maybe these Sheriffs are too fat or too lazy? Then maybe some other Council members could use them to do their jobs or community service.Wake up you lot. This is a mindless witch-hunt.

  8. Alternative energy bicycles, doesn’t that just smack of Solindra type crony capitalism?
    Then again having read some of the scams that we are buying these days at the county offices I’d suspect someone’s relative’s are involved.

    Oh wait, it didn’t cost us taxpayers $400,000 so it was just an honest mistake.

    Anyone figure out who trying to poison the SO crime lab yet? I’m betting the fresh water system is tied into the sprinklers.

  9. Nobody in the Sheriff’s Department either knew or cared how they got there, so they just googled the address of the manufacturer and took them back? Did they get a receipt? What did the manufacturer say? “Uh… OK”?