Pay To Play Sheriff Indicted

I wrote about Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith last year and how big donors were rewarded with CCW permits. There were a number of indictments including that of a captain in the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office. However, Sheriff Smith herself was never charged. That has changed.

Yesterday, a civil grand jury in Santa Clara County returns seven indictments against Sheriff Smith. This is the California equivalent of an impeachment proceeding for a local official. She must appear in court to answer the indictments. If she wishes to contest them, a trial will be held. However, the only penalty she will face if found guilty is removal from office.

As per custom, the local DA has recused himself from the case. Taking his place will be the infamous Soros-sponsored San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin who will handle the prosecution. Boudin is not fan of law enforcement.

KRON reports the charges against Smith as follows:

  • Count 1: Illegally issuing concealed carry weapon permits (CCW) to VIP’s
  • Count 2: Failing to properly investigate whether non-VIP’s should receive CCW permits
  • Count 3: Keeping non-VIP CCW applications pending indefinitely
  • Count 4: Illegally accepting suite tickets, food, and drinks at Sharks game
  • Count 5: Failing to report Sharks game gifts on financial documents
  • Count 6: Committing perjury by failing to disclose Sharks game gifts
  • Count 7: Failing to cooperate with internal affairs investigation surrounding treatment of Andrew Hogan

Note that Counts 1 to 3 all involve the issuance of concealed carry permits. Her behavior makes the case that may-issue concealed carry permits and their issuance are ripe for corruption. As reported last year, if you were a big donor to Sheriff Smith, you had a 79% chance of getting your permit. If, however, you did not contribute to her campaign, you success rate was a mere 5.5%. While this is better than San Francisco, it is still abysmal.

Sheriff Smith has been in office since December 1998. While California sheriff’s elections are officially non-partisan, it is reported that she is a Republican.

Under California law, even if she is booted from office, Smith would not lose her pension. Public officials can only lose their pension benefits if convicted of a felony and only from the date of the commission of the felony. A rough estimate of her pension is $266,000 annually based upon her last reported salary of $296,000. As I said this is a rough estimate and her actual retirement pay is probably considerably more. Other than avoiding the public shame of being removed from office, she has nothing really to lose by continuing in office. That said, if I were 69 years old like her, I’d have already retired.

UPDATE: NBC Bay Area has more on the case with Santa Clara County DA Jeff Rosen who has recused himself from the case.

May-Issue Carry Leads To Corruption

I wrote about an investigation into the Santa Clara County (CA) Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Laurie Smith back in June. NBC News Bay Area had started checking into just who was issued a carry permit. While the average person had about a 5.5% chance of getting it approved, if you were a big donor to the Smith re-election campaign your success rate skyrocketed to 79%. I noted at the time that the issue was still under investigation by the Santa Clara DA’s Office.

The District Attorney’s Office reported today that a grand jury has handed down indictments for felony bribery and conspiracy against four men including a captain in the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, two attorneys, and a local business owner. A $90,000 “donation” was to be made to an independent campaign committee in exchange for 10-12 carry permits for employees of a security company.

From the DA’s press release on the case:

Captain James Jensen, attorney Christopher Schumb, attorney Harpaul Nahal, and business owner Michael Nichols are accused of conspiring with the CEO and a middle manager of AS Solution, Inc., an international security company, to offer a $90,000 bribe to obtain concealed firearms permits (CCW licenses) for the company’s executive protection agents. This all took place in 2018, while Sheriff Laurie Smith — who had the authority to grant the CCW licenses — was in a hard-fought race for reelection, both in the primary and general elections.

The defendants are expected to be arraigned on the charges August 31, 2020 at the Hall of Justice in San Jose. If convicted, the defendants could receive prison time.

The DA’s Office is continuing to investigate more crimes and other individuals related to the issuance of CCW licenses. “Our concern is not whether the Sheriff grants many or few CCW licenses, but whether they are being granted or denied for the wrong reasons,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “CCW licenses should not be given out in exchange for campaign donations. They should not be for sale.”

The DA’s investigation began shortly after the general election in 2018, sparked by an inquiry from the Metro Silicon Valley weekly about executive security licensing and an extremely large campaign donation, which was reported in public filings. The investigation found that weeks after the scheme was hatched, the conspirators settled on a $90,000 “donation” in exchange for 10 to 12 CCW licenses. After submitting 7 CCW license applications to Jensen at a meeting, AS Solution manager Martin Nielsen donated the first half of that amount to the Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance (“PSA”), an independent expenditure committee supporting Sheriff Smith. The $45,000 personal check, which Nielsen handed to the PSA’s assistant treasurer, Schumb, represented more than half of the funds raised by the PSA before the election that year. The second installment was forestalled by the DA investigation.

In addition to bribery, the indictment charges Jensen with conspiring with AS Solution employees to put false information in their CCW license applications. Jensen advised Nielsen to instruct AS Solution employees who were not residents of Santa Clara County to use local corporate addresses as their residence addresses in their applications.

Captain Jensen is currently the head of the Training and Compliance Division of the Sheriff’s Office according to their website. Among the things he oversees is the Regional Firearms Training Facility.

Christopher Schumb is listed as a 2020 SuperLawyer and is a top-rate general litigation attorney in San Jose. He was admitted to the California Bar in 1984. Harpaul Nahal is also in private practice in San Jose and was admitted to the California Bar in 2010.

Mike Nichols is president of The Gun Company and is also VP Operations for Nichols Manufacturing which machines parts for the aerospace, defense, and firearms industries. The company holds a 07 FFL according to both their website and BATFE records.

If California had shall-issue carry by law, there would have been no need to bribe a sheriff’s office for issuance of a carry permit. As it is here and in many other locations that have may-issue carry, who you are and how much of a campaign contribution you make is more important than whether you are an honest, law-abiding citizen.

Pay To Play In California?

California is one of the few remaining “may issue” states. Given yesterday’s refusal by the Supreme Court to consider a number of carry cases, that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

While some counties in California are effectively “shall issue”, the majority are not. That is the case with Santa Clara County which includes cities like San Jose.

This has led to charges of favoritism towards campaign donors to Sheriff Laurie Smith. NBC News Bay Area has done an investigative report on the issue. They found that there were 749 new applications for a carry permit in the 2014-2018 time period. If you were not a donor to the sheriff’s re-election coffers, you had about a 5.5% chance of obtaining a permit. However, if you were one of the 28 people who donated either directly or indirectly, your chances skyrocketed to a 79% approval rate.

While Sheriff Laurie Smith denies any correlation between campaign donations and CCW permits, the issue is still under investigation by the Santa Clara County DA’s office.

Rob, who publishes 2A Updates on Twitter, noted, “Wow hard to believe a permit system where an elected official has unlimited discretion to approve or deny applications would result in political favoritism.”

This generated a response on Twitter to the effect that the Sheriff should just post the going amount to obtain a permit so that people could budget for it.

The system in California and other states where carry permits are “may issue” is ripe for abuse. You have seen cases in New York City where police officials have been arrested on charges of accepting bribes to issue permits.

Sheriff Smith’s campaign donation approach is just a little less obvious than an envelope full of cash – but not by much.