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Santa Clara County sheriff’s captain, three others indicted in alleged exchange of campaign donations for gun permits – San Francisco Chronicle


A grand jury indicted a Santa Clara County sheriff’s captain, two attorneys and a gun parts manufacturer on felony bribery and conspiracy charges in an alleged scheme to exchange concealed gun permits for $90,000 toward Sheriff Laurie Smith’s 2018 re-election campaign, investigators announced Friday.

In 2018, Capt. James Jensen conspired with attorney Christopher Schumb, attorney Harpaul Nahal and business owner Michael Nichols to offer 12 concealed carry weapons permits to the CEO and employees of a top tech security firm, in exchange for the $90,000 campaign donation, according to the charges the grand jury handed down. Of that amount, $45,000 was paid, District Attorney Jeff Rosen said.

“This investigation revealed that at the Santa Clara County Sheriff‘s Office, there are two policies for those seeking CCW licenses,” Rosen said. “If you are, in the words of Sheriff’s Captain James Jensen, a ‘VIP’, he’ll meet you at Starbucks, personally review your application, and help you fill it out.”

Jensen’s attorney, Harry Stern, denied that Jensen has the authority to grant permits or that he received anything for processing them. He said that he has not received any of the evidence, but that he believed that everyone involved obtained permits legally.

“James is devastated by this development,” Stern said. “It is extremely painful to have his integrity questioned after spending years dedicated to serving the people of Santa Clara County.”

Investigators have not made allegations against Smith. Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jessica Galbadon said in a statement Friday that Jensen “will be placed on administrative leave immediately,” pending any additional information from the district attorney’s office.

“We will continue to monitor this situation and have no further information to provide at this time,” Galbadon said.

Schumb deferred to his attorney, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Nahal and his attorney did not immediately respond.

Nichols’s attorney, Sam Polverino, also said he had not received the evidence, which will be released by the prosecution in the coming weeks.

“Grand jury proceedings are done in secret without the benefit of a defense lawyer present,” Polverino said. “The indictment is a piece of paper that has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The indictment comes two years into a district attorney’s investigation prompted by public revelations of the $45,000 donation made by AS Solution, a top private security firm that provides bodyguards to Silicon Valley. The indictment, which relied on phone, text, email and bank records, as well as the testimony of 19 witnesses, suggests a broad scheme of conspiracy between a chief executive, law enforcement and legal professionals to raise political funds ahead of a contested election.

In 2018, the district attorney launched an investigation after public records revealed that Martin Nielsen, a manager at AS Solution, received a concealed-gun permit on March 26. This was just five months after he gave $45,000 to the Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance, an independent expenditure committee that supported Smith’s re-election.

The investigation found that Nielsen’s donation was the first of two intended installments of a $90,000 payment, but that the second installment, intended to be paid by AS Solution CEO Christian West, was delayed by investigators and was never made, Rosen said.

The alleged scheme took place between April 2018 and July 2019, through a series of meetings in which fundraisers Schumb, Nahal and Nichols connected the sheriff’s captain with security firm officials and coordinated the bribe, investigators said.

On April 30, 2018, Nichols texted Nahal, “I need you to meet my buddy that runs the Facebook Executive Team,” followed by, “It’s a potential $50k,” according to records cited by the indictment.

After several written exchanges, Jensen, Nahal and Nichols met with Nielsen and West at a Jamba Juice on May 18 and agreed to exchange 10-12 concealed carry licenses for the $90,000 donation to Smith’s campaign, according to the indictment.

Then, in meetings at a San Jose Starbucks between July and October, Nielsen provided Jensen with 12 license applications for his employees, the indictment said.

On Oct. 3, just one month before Smith’s November re-election, Nielsen traveled to Schumb’s law office and handed him a check for $45,000 recently transferred from his business to his personal account, according to the indictment.

In April 2019, the indictment found, Nielsen picked up his concealed carry license, signed by the re-elected sheriff.

In Santa Clara County, the sheriff approves applications to carry a concealed weapon. A century-old state law requires applicants to complete a training course, be of “good moral character” and show “good cause” for why they need a concealed weapon. But county and city law enforcement agencies have broad discretion in determining who meets those criteria.

AS Solution is a Bellevue, Wash., company that has provided executive protection to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google executives and other CEOs in Silicon Valley.

Brian Jantzen, AS Solution’s executive vice president, said the company is cooperating with the investigation, but could not comment in greater detail.

“The AS Solution team is committed to ethical and lawful practices and full cooperation with law enforcement,” Jantzen said.

In addition to bribery, the indictment charges Jensen with conspiring with AS Solution employees to put false information in their concealed-carry license applications. Jensen advised Nielsen to instruct his employees to use local corporate addresses as their residence addresses to falsify Santa Clara County residency, the indictment found.

Jensen also suggested in July that Nielsen make the second $45,000 payment, but it was never made, investigators said.

The four alleged co-conspirators will be arraigned on Aug. 31. If convicted, they face potential prison time.

When asked whether Jensen acted on his own, or if Smith was involved in the alleged conspiracy, Rosen declined to comment on individuals, emphasizing that the investigation is ongoing.

“We will follow the evidence where it leads,” Rosen said. “We are not done.”

Brett Simpson is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: brett.simpson@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @brettvsimpson





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