SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A Santa Clara County Sheriff's captain and three others have been charged in connection with a gun permit bribery scheme, District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced Friday.
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 race for reelection, both in the primary and general elections.
"This investigation revealed the sad reality that at the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office there are 2 policies for those seeking CCW licenses. For the average member of the public, no matter how pressing or justified their need, if they follow the procedure laid out on the sheriff's website and mail in an application, it will will not be reviewed. Instead, it will be tossed in a filing cabinet and forgotten. However, if you are in the words of sheriff's Captain James Jenson a VIP, then he will meet you at Starbucks, personally review your application and help you fill it out. You don't even need to live in the county, which is required by law. And Captain Jenson will even wave the mandated gun testing at a gun range," said Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.
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.
"My concern is not whether the sheriff grants many or few CCW licenses, but whether they are being granted or denied for the wrong reasons," said Rosen. "CCW licenses should not be given in exchange for campaign donations. They should not be for sale."
The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office issued the following comment to ABC7 News.
"On August 7, 2020, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office publicly announced that Captain James Jensen has been formally charged with felony bribery, conspiracy and falsifying public documents by a Grand Jury."
Friday afternoon the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office told ABC7 News that Jensen was officially placed on administrative leave.
Jensen's attorney Harry S. Stern released the following statement to ABC7 News:
James is devastated by this development. It is extremely painful to have his integrity questioned after spending years dedicated to serving the people of Santa Clara County. I haven't been provided any evidence at this point, but broadly speaking I believe that all of the folks involved were legally able to obtain the permits. Moreover, he doesn't have the authority to grant permits nor did he receive anything for processing them.
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.
Rosen wanted to make it clear his office will hold any public official accountable for misconduct.
"The DA's office is continuing to investigate more crimes and more individuals related to Sheriff Smith's issuance of CCW licenses. The investigation is active and ongoing," said Rosen. "We will follow the evidence where it leads. We are not done."
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