Already embattled for billing taxpayers for lavish expenses, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President George Shirakawa Jr. is now being asked to explain a new mystery revealed by the investigation into his county-issued credit card: how he appeared to be in two cities at the same time.
In a Nov. 16 inquiry to county officials, the District Attorney's office is asking for explanations into a series of questionable expenses regarding the supervisor's travel receipts.
In one example questioned by the District Attorney's office, Shirakawa racked up a $94.88 bill on his county-issued credit card for a staff lunch in San Jose while he was apparently in the middle of a two-day conference in Sacramento -- 115 miles away.
In another case this spring, Shirakawa billed taxpayers for a $560 Washington, D.C., hotel stay and taxi rides that his own expense records show occurred after his itinerary had him flying home from a conference.
While Shirakawa wasn't commenting Monday, a 68-year-old retired San Jose nurse and longtime community activist who was in Washington to be honored at the White House offered an explanation to the newspaper about the hotel charge: Cora Tomalinas said Shirakawa offered her and one of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed's public safety advisers his room at the Renaissance Washington, D.C., Dupont Circle Hotel because she was too ill to fly home after the White House visit.
"George had already paid for the room,''
County officials wouldn't say Monday whether that would be a proper use of taxpayer funds.
The confusing trail of receipts provides the latest glimpse into a pattern of questionable practices by the District 2 supervisor who is the focus of an investigation into whether he misused public funds and why he failed to file campaign funding reports from his 2008 run for supervisor.
In some instances, the 50-year-old board president has reimbursed the county months after inappropriate uses of his county credit card. He and his chief of staff, Eddie Garcia, on Monday declined when asked to comment on the latest questions; last week at a supervisors meeting, Shirakawa described news reports of his spending as "a political lynching."
But Shirakawa's own accountings, at the very least, leave many unanswered questions. And they reveal the extent to which county officials appear to have failed to adequately monitor his spending.
Charges over the last four years are now raising new questions from prosecutors:
On March 31, Shirakawa flew to Washington for a two-day National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention.
According to the itinerary issued by the county's travel agent, Shirakawa flew back to the Bay Area on April 4, arriving at San Francisco International Airport at 1:16 p.m. Despite his afternoon arrival, he was reimbursed by taxpayers for dinner that night, although the DA's inquiry doesn't disclose where he dined.
Meanwhile, his Washington, D.C., tab kept running. Aside from the final $560 night at the D.C. hotel that Tomalinas and Nguyen say Shirakawa paid for, he also billed taxpayers for two taxi rides to and from the White House -- at 1:20 p.m. and again at 3:30 p.m. -- hours after his county itinerary had him heading home. It wasn't clear Monday if Shirakawa had changed his itinerary.
When he got home, Shirakawa made a successful case that he was owed money for the trip. After returning, the county reimbursed him for $381 for unspecified costs, records show.
The spate of charges has prompted harsh questioning from the District Attorney's office, which has asked the county to justify "reimbursement for dinner if the supervisor arrived at 1 p.m.," and "justification for payment of a fifth night in hotel in D.C."
In a memo on Oct. 13, 2011, to the county controller's office, Shirakawa's staffer, Marisa Ybarra, explained Shirakawa spent another extra night in the nation's capital during the annual April forum on youth violence "due to meeting with dignitaries."
The prosecutor questioned why in November 2010 during a two-day California counties meeting in Riverside, Shirakawa charged taxpayers $789.71 to rent a luxury SUV for a full week. In that case, Shirakawa eventually was asked to repay the county for the extra days, and he reimbursed the county for $338.48. But that payment came almost seven months after the original charge to National Rental Car.
In yet another example from 2009, Shirakawa attended the California State Association of Counties' legislative conference in Sacramento on May 27 and 28. Taxpayers footed the $618.62 hotel bill that listed two people for two nights, including the night of May 28. Yet, that same day, Shirakawa charged taxpayers $94.88 for a "working staff meeting" at Caper's Loft restaurant at 1:06 p.m. in San Jose.
If the latest questions into his expenses are a simply the result of messy paperwork, Shirakawa's office isn't saying.
Public reaction to news of Shirakawa's spending has ranged from shocked outrage to staunch defense.
San Jose resident Eric Thacker wrote Shirakawa's office last week requesting he resign "to allow someone to provide that needed focus and respectability."
But many others, such as Connie and Fausto Peralta of San Jose wrote county supervisors to defend him. "He's been a supporter for a community that hasn't always been cared for, as it should have. ... Having him leave office will do nothing for those of us that need his help."
Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781 and Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140.