Declaring he is "embarrassed by oversights on the use of my county-issued credit card," Santa Clara County Supervisor Board President George Shirakawa told supporters in an email that he takes "full responsibility for these errors" that have forced him to reimburse taxpayers thousands of dollars for car rentals, personal hotel stays and golfing at a Nevada golf club.

The embattled supervisor also lashed out at local newspapers for what he called "scandalous printed 'sound bites' " that he said challenged his accountability and misrepresented his actions, offering a point-by-point rebuttal to some of his most questionable charges. But some of the specifics in his rebuttal raised even more questions.

The email, also posted Wednesday on his county Web page, contains Shirakawa's first detailed public comments on the controversy surrounding the 50-year-old veteran politician, but it did not address his failure to file a series of missing campaign finance reports that is now being investigated by state and local authorities.

"I take full responsibility for the charges that required reimbursement, and I'm disappointed in myself," Shirakawa wrote. "I should have held myself to a higher standard."

Despite that acknowledgment, Shirakawa spent the majority of his missive dismissing what he called "myths" raised in a series of stories in the local media. In attempting to make his case, he posted copies of travel documents, personal checks and credit card statements to show refunds and reimbursements to the county. Over the years, county staff and even Shirakawa's own staffers have alerted him to inadvertent charges.


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A recent review by this paper showed the supervisor appears to have repaid the county for almost $5,200 of the $36,717 in charges he has made on his taxpayer-covered credit card since taking office in January 2009.

In a list Shirakawa presents as "myths" versus "facts," he gives a series of explanations of questionable expenses, some of which are under review by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office:

  • Shirakawa said it was "simply not true" that he went on county-funded trips to casinos, a luxury resort or golf courses. Yet, his email said that he "inadvertently used" his county credit card to pay $583.78 for greens fees (at the Revere Golf Club in Henderson, Nev.); $263.74 for two nights in casino resorts (Rio Suites in Las Vegas and the Thunder Valley Resort in Lincoln, Calif.) and $20.46 for breakfast (at Harvey's Casino in Stateline.) But, he emphasized, once the inadvertent use "was discovered," the charges were either credited back to the card or repaid to the county with a personal check.

  • Shirakawa acknowledged that he has occasionally upgraded to larger first-class airline seats, noting, "As you know, I'm a big man." But, he wrote, "I paid for the upgrades with personal/private funds," not with his county credit card. His Web page featured the copy of one first-class ticket he took to a conference in Washington, D.C, this spring, including an arrow pointing to form of payment and a handwritten note: "Non-County Credit Card."

    However, his explanation failed to address a $2,605.40 round-trip ticket to Washington, D.C., issued in late March 2011 that was upgraded from a $584.40 fare that shows up on documents provided to the newspaper and the District Attorney's Office. Shirakawa's office said Thursday they would look into it.

  • His email rebuffed the DA's questions about a $94.88 staff lunch in San Jose on May 28, 2009, when his itinerary listed him staying in a Sheraton in Sacramento, where he was attending a three-day conference.

    Shirakawa stated that he checked out of his hotel in the middle of the conference on the morning of May 28 and drove back to San Jose for a morning meeting. He then had a "working staff meeting" lunch at Caper's Loft, before returning to Sacramento for the remainder of the conference and an overnight stay at the Sheraton.

  • A story Tuesday in this newspaper reported that the DA was questioning why Shirakawa upgraded to a $559 a night room at the Renaissance Washington D.C. Dupont Circle Hotel in the middle of a conference this spring. However, Shirakawa explained in his email that he didn't upgrade but moved to a sister hotel.

    Shirakawa explained in his email that he first stayed at the Renaissance Dupont Circle (for $256.48 a night on March 31 and April 1) because the conference host hotel, the Renaissance Downtown, was booked. Hotel staff there confirmed that to the newspaper on Thursday.

    When a room came open on his third night, Shirakawa moved to the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, 1.5 miles away, more than doubling the price, in order to be "more productive and efficient to do the county's business."

  • The District Attorney's Office also questioned why he paid for a pair of cabs during that trip when his itinerary showed him already flying home. His email said he took a later flight home; however, the email referred specifically to a trip almost two years earlier -- not the trip the DA questioned.

    nn Shirakawa also claimed newspaper reports of "regular lavish meals" with his staff were inaccurately characterized.

    Yet, receipts show him racking up triple-digit bills with some staff members at ll Fornaio, the Fairmont Hotel's Grill on the Alley, and the San Jose Marriott Hotel's Arcadia.

    Over the four-year period, Shirakawa treated his entire staff to several lunches -- one at the Grill on the Alley in June cost $470. In his email, he said holiday and special occasion lunches were "essential to successful team-building." He pledged to reimburse the county "if those charges are found to be unauthorized."

    A review of Shirakawa's filed expense forms showed at least 180 meals billed to taxpayers over four years, many of which violated the per-person limits of $14 for breakfast, $16 for lunch and $30 for dinner. And at least 65 of those meals were shared with at least one member of his staff; 15 of the meals -- some with up to seven members -- cost taxpayers $100 or more.

    None of Shirakawa's board colleagues came anywhere close to that number of meals billed to a county credit card, and at most had only one or two a year.

  • Shirakawa wrote that he was "diligent about making sure that no alcohol served at business meals is charged to the public," which is a violation of county policy. He wrote he was "disappointed" when it "came to my attention" that $18.75 for alcohol was charged to taxpayers from a February dinner at P.F. Chang's. Shirakawa's chief of staff, Eddie Garcia, said he repaid that bar tab this week -- nine months later. But since Shirakawa routinely failed to file the required itemized receipts for meals, it's unclear if there were other alcohol charges.

    In his email, Shirakawa made one final plea for his supporters to stick by him while he weathers this latest storm.

    "I'm committed to earning back the trust of those I've served for two decades," he wrote, "by ensuring these mistakes never happen again."

    Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140 or Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781.