Staff writers

A growing number of high-profile San Jose leaders who ate out with Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President George Shirakawa Jr. are rushing to pay back the county for the taxpayer-funded meals, including a council member, a political consultant -- and even Shirakawa's former housemate.

By Friday, county officials said they had received $1,547.18 in reimbursements from eight people who had restaurant meals from El Pirrin to P.F. Chang's paid for by Shirakawa, who is under fire for abusing his county-issued credit card and is the subject of a criminal probe. Now they want to correct the record.

After being called by a reporter, George Sanchez, Shirakawa's longtime friend and recent housemate, said he will repay the costs of meals he shared with Shirakawa on the county's dime while he lived with the supervisor for 12 months, as well as taxpayer-funded meals they shared since the supervisor took office in 2009.

"It's not a problem for me -- not at all whatsoever," said Sanchez, a veteran member of the Franklin-McKinley School District board.

San Jose Deputy Police Chief Larry Esquivel, another longtime Shirakawa friend, also said he is reimbursing the county for meals paid for by the supervisor with his county credit card.


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But as Shirakawa tries to justify many of his 174 taxpayer-funded breakfasts, lunches and dinners -- when other supervisors charged few, if any -- the supervisor might have a tough time explaining some of the restaurant bills he rang up with Sanchez.

That's because the 62-year-old East Side Union High School District employee lived at Shirakawa's home for at least a year -- from September 2011 until two months ago -- even as Shirakawa treated him to six lunches and dinners worth almost $259.

Over Shirakawa's four-year term in office, receipts show, the supervisor paid for another 15 meals with Sanchez, for an additional $556 that also was billed to taxpayers, including a charge in San Diego when both were there at the same time on separate business trips.

Shirakawa's office has refused repeated requests to discuss his spending. But Sanchez told this newspaper: "If anybody questions it, it was legitimate business that was being done" during the meals, including discussions about gangs and a potential swap of school and county land near Franklin Elementary School.

Sanchez said he came to live with Shirakawa temporarily in fall 2011 after one of his adult children moved out of the house Sanchez had shared with her. He said he paid the supervisor rent the year he lived with him.

Their busy schedules, he said, meant he and Shirakawa rarely saw each other at the Apollo Drive home in San Jose, so making appointments for lunches and dinners outside the house was necessary to talk shop.

"I would not meet with George unless it dealt with something to do with the county, the community at large, or kids or safety," Sanchez said.

A county audit released last week found that since 2009, Shirakawa has used his taxpayer-funded credit card for "strictly prohibited" items, including trips to casinos, golf courses, unauthorized airplane tickets and upgraded car rentals.

Shirakawa, 50, is also under investigation by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission for failing to file campaign finance reports in his 2008 run for office. In addition, the county District Attorney's Office is investigating Shirakawa's possible misuse of public funds.

Of the 240 charges worth $36,837 he made over four years, county auditors found Shirakawa spent $10,354 in 174 visits to local restaurants for which he rarely filed required itemized receipts. The audit demands the District 2 supervisor immediately reimburse the county $12,772 -- in addition to the $7,049 he already had paid back. Last year, Shirakawa filed for personal bankruptcy.

Of those reimbursing the county, only Shirakawa's former political consultant Rich Robinson -- who gave back $70 -- offered a detailed explanation. Robinson explained in a note to the county that he was returning the money because it was "the morally right thing to do."

Robinson crafted the supervisor's successful campaign in 2008, receiving $67,876 in Shirakawa's campaign funds, according to filings. But now he has gone public in his dissent, blogging recently that his former client should step down.

"Shirakawa cannot make things right, now," Robinson wrote. "A person cannot be acquitted of bank robbery, even if he gives the money back after being caught."

Among those paying back the county are San Jose Deputy City Manager Norberto Dueñas, as well as Shirakawa's former lobbying colleagues and campaign contributors, Tom Saggau, Dustin DeRollo and Joe Guerra.

San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore sent a check for $400 -- the majority of a $548 meal with his top command staff at the Fairmont Hotel that was crashed by City Councilman Xavier Campos and Shirakawa, who paid the bill before Moore had a chance to. Campos, who dined with Shirakawa, his one-time boss, 10 times in the past two years, repaid a neat $150, or exactly $15 for each meal.

The highest reimbursement -- almost $560 -- came from Corazon Tomalinas, a Shirakawa appointee to two county boards. In the spring, Tomalinas stayed at a Washington, D.C., hotel in a room paid for by Shirakawa with his county credit card -- after the supervisor flew home to San Jose from a conference.

The two have explained that Tomalinas had fallen ill after receiving an award at the White House. She reimbursed the county Nov. 30, three days after this newspaper published details of the trip.

Staff researcher Leigh Poitinger contributed to this report. Contact Tracy Seipel at 408-275-0140. Contact Karen de Sá at 408-920-5781.

By the numbers
Reimbursements for meals charged to Santa Clara County taxpayers:
$559.91: Corazon Tomalinas, community activist
$400: Chris Moore, San Jose police chief
$184.09: Dustin DeRollo, political consultant and lobbyist
$150: Xavier Campos, San Jose councilman and former Shirakawa aide
$122.45: Tom Saggau, political consultant and lobbyist
$70: Rich Robinson, political consultant
$33: Norberto Dueñas, San Jose deputy city manager
$27.73: Joe Guerra, lobbyist
Source: Santa Clara County