Features & Columns
George Shirakawa Submits
Fraudulent Meal Receipts
Two weeks after he was elected president of Santa Clara County's Board of Supervisors, George Shirakawa, Jr. attended San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's Feb. 9 State of the City address. He then strolled across the street to the Fairmont Hotel, where San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore and other senior members of the force were getting ready to order $50 steaks and rib chops at The Grill on the Alley. Shirakawa sat down and joined the party.
When the check came for the dinner of filet mignon, NY pepper steak, lobster bisque and gelato, the board president pulled out his county-issued Visa card and included the charge on his signed February 2012 expense report as "Meet with San Jose Police Chief and Command Staff."
County policies limit meal reimbursements to official business, cap dinner costs at $30 without the finance director's approval and require an "original/itemized receipt" or a signed statement that "No ALCOHOL was served." Though the dinner violated all of those rules, taxpayers picked up the $548 tab, as they have with more than 250 charges Shirakawa has rang up in the past four years.
According to Moore, there was no official business to discuss. Instead, Shirakawa crashed a purely social dinner party unannounced. It was "not a meeting and wasn't planned," Moore says.
When the dinner ended, Moore says, Shirakawa offered to split the tab, which, the police chief says, included bottles of wine. "Trust me, it was going to be coming out of my pocket," says Moore. "He sure as heck didn't tell me he was going to put it on a county credit card."
While the county struggled to eliminate annual deficits exceeding $200 million and replace social services eliminated by state cuts, Shirakawa ran up meal tabs and misrepresented his expenses with fraudulent declarations. The top elected official in an agency with a $4.1 billion annual budget, he is already under investigation by the District Attorney's political integrity unit and the state's political watchdog group after Metro reported that the supervisor broke state law by repeatedly failing to file financial disclosure documents related to $110,000 in debts from his 2008 campaign.
Metro has now found that Shirakawa also violated expense limits and policies against taxpayer-funded alcohol consumption by exploiting a loophole that allowed officials to submit a "Missing Receipt Memorandum" in cases when the original, itemized receipt was misplaced. From January 2009 through September 2012, Shirakawa expensed 185 meals to the county and yet only three were accompanied with itemized receipts, according to county forms.
Amazingly, Shirakawa never lost the top copy of the receipt—the one with the tip and total—only the slip that details the number of guests and the items consumed. Two county audits of his charges did nothing to slow Shirakawa's spending, and in some respects, the incompetent inspections seemed only to embolden his free spending.
While many Santa Clara County homeowners sweated to pay their semiannual property tax payments in the recession that followed 2008's economic collapse, and businesses cut back on expenses, Shirakawa spent $36,830 of their taxes on plane tickets, hotels, rental cars, dining and other items—like a television and a $627 glass door mini-fridge that he claims were related to county business—since January 2009.
Even Dave Cortese, the supervisor who spent the most money with a county-issued charge card, $41,893, only recorded three restaurant transactions in the last four years. Liz Kniss spent $9,000 less than Shirakawa in the last four years, and nearly all of her charges related to travel and membership dues to various government-related organizations with wonkish acronyms. Supervisor Mike Wasserman uses his card almost exclusively for office-supplies purchases with contracted county vendors, and Supervisor Ken Yeager, who spent just $7,354 in the past four years, promptly reimburses the county if he has a $5.75 Samuel Adams with his $18 Kobe burger while at an out-of-town convention.
Shirakawa is the board's runaway frequent diner, a regular at taquerias, Chinese restaurants, Italian bistros and rib joints, picking up the tab for everything from $7.95 red velvet cakes at the Cheesecake Factory to $78 steaks ($102.76 with tax and tip, not including beverages or side dishes). He pays with county funds for his meals with political consultants, friends and staff members.
They wash their meals of spare ribs, chicken lettuce wraps, egg rolls, calamari and green beans down with Devil's Canyon Amber Draft, Stella Artois and a pina colada, as Shirakawa did with his buddy, San Jose Councilman Xavier Campos, and San Jose's Deputy City Manager Noberto Duenas at P.F. Chang's on Feb. 17.(Campos had no mention of the outing on his public calendar, but his office confirmed that he did have a note of the dinner on his personal calendar.) Shirakawa then papered over the misconduct with a fraudulent declaration that no alcohol was consumed.