So far Santa Clara County, California Sheriff Laurie Smith has avoided indictment in a scandal over the issuance of concealed carry permits that emanated from the top levels of the sheriffs department and directed tens of thousands of dollars towards an independent campaign organization supporting her re-election efforts, but two more individuals connected with the bribery scandal have plead guilty to their role in the scandal.
KPIX-TV in San Francisco reported on the Monday guilty pleas by AS Solution, Inc. managers Martin Nielsen and Jack Stromgren, who followed CEO and founder Christian West in acknowledging their role in the bribery scheme.
Prosecutors said the defendants are accused of conspiring to engineer a $90,000 bribe — $45,000 of which allegedly went to support Sheriff Laurie Smith’s re-election in 2018 — to obtain concealed firearms permits.
Nielsen was charged with three misdemeanors: conspiracy to solicit the acceptance of a bribe, conspiracy to file CCW license applications with false statements and making a campaign contribution in a false name.
Stromgren was charged with a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to file CCW license applications with false statements.
Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Captain James Jensen is the only employee of the sheriff’s office that’s been charged in the bribery scandal, though D.A. Jeff Rosen has said the investigation continues. Sheriff Smith was called to testify before a grand jury this summer, but repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination even when asked basic questions about her time as sheriff.
On Aug. 3, from a witness stand at the old Santa Clara County Superior Courthouse, Sheriff Smith almost immediately began taking the Fifth.
When Deputy District Attorney John Chase asked her what she does for a living, Smith told him she’s worked for the Sheriff’s Office for 47 years. Before he could even get to asking about the gun permits, known as CCWs, she invoked her constitutional right over an innocuous request to summarize her law enforcement career.
“Sir, under Article 1 of the California Constitution, Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution—excuse me,” she said, cutting herself off abruptly.
Though absent from the transcript, witnesses to the proceeding say that’s when Smith, visibly overcome with emotion, paused to collect herself and wipe tears from her eyes.
“That’s fine,” Chase assured, allowing her a moment to regain composure. “Take your time, sheriff. There is no rush here. We are not in a rush.”
Smith picked up where she left off
“… and Evidence Code 940,” she continued. “I assert my privilege against self-incrimination. Therefore, I’m declining to answer your questions.”
The San Jose Mercury News has called on Smith to resign her office, noting that the sheriff was either aware of the bribes in support of her re-election efforts or was clueless about how her top deputies were handling concealed carry applications. Either way, the editors opined, Smith’s invocation of the Fifth Amendment was “unacceptable” to citizens demanding answers.
County residents have a right to know if the county’s top cop knew about corruption in her office, or worse, was involved in it. Her refusal to answer those questions under oath makes her unfit to hold her office.
This cannot be tolerated in Santa Clara County or anywhere in the Bay Area or the rest of California. Law enforcement officials must be held to the highest legal and ethical standards and must be fully cooperative in any criminal investigation. Anything less undermines the powerful trust placed in them.
Smith’s office only approved a handful of concealed carry applications, and at least 25% of those who received approval had donated to her re-election efforts. During grand jury testimony, one former employee admitted that the vast majority of applications were never even looked at.
When asked who was “the driving force in processing CCWs,” former PIO Richard Glennon testified, “Captain Jensen by far.” But Glennon’s clear understanding was that Jensen was acting at Smith’s behest.
“It quickly became apparent that when I took over the position that (Jensen) was still kind of the go-between between the sheriff and myself. He would basically bring me the applications that she had approved to move forward,” Glennon testified.
That was on top of Jensen’s unofficial duties. According to Glennon, Jensen “was active in running campaign events. He would be going to a lot of the lunches. During the campaign events, he was the one at the door collecting the money.”
When prosecutor Chase asked Glennon what Jensen told him to do with typical applications, those that didn’t come from Smith’s political supporters, he replied, “They were basically put in a drawer and left in the drawer.”
That would be a violation of state law, which requires a response be given within 90 days.
The fact that ordinary citizens couldn’t even get their applications looked at is a scandal in and of itself, but thanks to California’s subjective and discriminatory concealed carry permitting law, county sheriffs have broad discretion in approving or denying applications. The opportunity for bribery as well as discrimination would disappear if lawmakers in Sacramento were to adopt a “shall issue” licensing system, but since that would prompt a flood of applicants in Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Bay area, the anti-gun legislators in Sacramento will never take that step. They prefer a system where the rich and powerful have access to concealed carry licenses (even if they pay for the privilege), while the average gun owner is routinely denied their right to bear arms.