A top official in the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office was indicted on Friday, becoming the fifth person to date to face criminal charges for allegedly participating in a pay-to-play scheme in which a number of individuals received their licenses to carry after first making sizeable donations to a committee set up to re-elect Sheriff Laurie Smith.
Undersheriff Rick Sung is Smith’s second-in-command in Santa Clara, and he now joins sheriff’s Capt. James Jensen as the first two members of the department to face indictments in the probe. Jensen was first indicted several months ago, but a new charge was added along with Sung’s charges by a grand jury empaneled to investigate the bribery accusations.
The specific charges are not yet known, but Santa Clara County D.A. Jeff Rosen is promising to release more details at a press conference on Monday morning.
To date, three people have pleaded guilty to participating in an alleged scheme in which prosecutors accuse members of an executive protection firm of conspiring with two attorneys and a gun manufacturer to make campaign donations to an independent expenditure fund in exchange for permits to carry concealed weapons.
AS Solution CEO Christian West entered a plea a few months ago. Two of his managers, Martin Nielsen and Jack Stromgren, followed suit in October.
The other defendants include attorneys Christopher Schumb and Harpaul Nahal and The Gun Co. owner Michael Nichols.
Sheriff Laurie Smith—who, like other top cops in California, has the authority to issue the gun permits—has not been charged with a crime.
When Smith testified before the grand jury, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to almost every question that was posed to her. So did Sung, with his attorney suggesting at the time that the sheriff and her second-in-command shouldn’t be considered suspects in the probe.
“He asserted his rights based upon my advice, based upon my understanding of the case. It was the wisest course for him to take,” Chuck Smith said Friday.
He also defended Sung against being implicated by association with the case.
“He was subpoenaed as a witness. Not as a suspect, not as a target of the grand jury,” Chuck Smith said. “Based upon that, I don’t believe he’s culpable of any wrongdoing.”
Well, clearly the prosecutor disagrees, and I’m very interested to learn the specifics of the charges against Sung come Monday.
In the meantime, Sheriff Smith is still clinging to office, despite the bribery scandal and calls for her to step down by many locals, including the editorial board of the San Jose Mercury News, which demanded Smith’s resignation back in September.
I’m in agreement with the paper that it’s time for the sheriff to go, but that’s not the only change that’s needed. Until California removes the broad discretion that sheriffs have in approving or denying carry licenses based on a “justifiable need,” the opportunity for graft and corruption is going to remain a temptation for corruptible cops. By refusing to change the law, legislators in Sacramento aren’t just turning a blind eye to the growing bribery scandal in Santa Clara County; they’re enabling sheriffs departments in other counties to engage in the same type of illicit activity at the expense of our trust in law enforcement and the lawful exercise of our constitutional rights.