Prosecutors in Santa Clara County, California have charged four individuals, including a sheriff’s captain, in an alleged “pay-to-play” scheme involving rarely-granted concealed carry licenses, and more arrests could be coming. Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced the first charges on Friday, following a year-long investigation into allegations that concealed carry applicants who made contributions to Sheriff Laurie Smith’s 2018 re-election campaign received special treatment in exchange for their campaign cash.
Sheriff’s office captain James Jensen, attorneys Christopher Schumb and Harpaul Nahal and business owner Michael Nichols were charged for 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.
The activity took place in 2018 while Sheriff Laurie Smith, who had the authority to grant the permits, was in a tough race for reelection in both the primary and general elections.
The Santa Clara County district attorney said the defendants are expected to be arraigned on the charges Aug. 31 at the San Jose Hall of Justice. If convicted, all four defendants could face prison.
The DA’s office said it is continuing to investigate additional crimes and individuals in relation to the issuing of CCW licenses.
One big question: how much did the sheriff know about the scheme? Smith has not been charged, as of yet anyway, but given the fact that the bribe was directed to a campaign group backing Smith’s re-election, as well as the suspicious timing of James Jensen’s promotion to captain shortly after Smith won re-election, it seems hard to believe that she would have no knowledge whatsoever about what was happening in her own department. Of course, if the sheriff really is that oblivious to the bribery connected to her own re-election, that raises a whole host of other reasons why she’s not fit for the job.
I’ll give some credit to the District Attorney for investigating the allegations, especially since Jeff Rosen hasn’t exactly been a Second Amendment stalwart during his time in office. Even though Rosen hasn’t been a friend to gun owners, he didn’t shy away from his conclusion that the concealed carry process in Santa Clara County is being abused by the sheriff’s department. Only a handful of permits are active in the county, and the prosecutor says that’s because the average citizen simply have their applications thrown out without even a review.
Rosen said the investigation “revealed a sad reality” that two different policies seem to exist within the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office for those seeking the concealed firearm permits.
“For the average member of the public, no matter how pressing or justified their need, if they follow the procedure… and mail in an application, it will not be reviewed,” Rosen said. “However, if you are, in the words of Sheriff’s Captain James Jensen, a ‘VIP’, then he will meet you at Starbucks, personally review your application and help you fill it out.”
“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,” Rosen said. “CCW licenses should not be given out in exchange for campaign donations. They should not be for sale.”
Unfortunately, thanks to the state’s concealed carry licensing laws, which give sheriffs broad discretion in approving or denying licenses if they don’t believe the applicant has demonstrated “good cause,” there are plenty of opportunities for graft and corruption. The easiest thing to do would be for the state to adopt a “shall issue” licensing system that recognizes self-defense as a valid reason to carry and removes the discretionary authority of local sheriffs to reject or approve applications based on their own whims, but that seems extraordinarily unlikely given the anti-gun supermajority in the state legislature. Instead, it’s much more likely that we’ll continue to see this kind of abuse continue, though perhaps not as blatantly as the Santa Clara County case.
The first suspects arrested in the bribery scandal are due in court on August 31st. Will there be more arrests by then? Rosen is keeping his cards pretty close to the vest, but during Friday’s press conference he made it clear that this was still an open investigation, and I suspect he’s not done filing charges yet.