California Sheriff Indicted In Concealed Carry Bribery Scandal

Paul Sakuma

The investigation into Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith’s office has been underway for well over a year, and has already led to criminal charges being filed against two of her top deputies, but now a grand jury has indicted the sheriff herself for her alleged involvement in a pay-to-play bribery scheme involving the issuance of rarely-granted concealed carry permits in exchange for cash and gifts.

The indictments, unveiled late Tuesday afternoon, accuse the sheriff of a wide variety of crimes related to the issuing of concealed handgun permits, as well as the severe injuries suffered by an inmate at the Santa Clara County Jail.

  • Count 1: Illegally issuing concealed carry weapon permits (CCW) to VIP’s
  • Count 2: Failing to properly investigate whether non-VIP’s should receive CCW permits
  • Count 3: Keeping non-VIP CCW applications pending indefinitely
  • Count 4: Illegally accepting suite tickets, food, and drinks at Sharks game
  • Count 5: Failing to report Sharks game gifts on financial documents
  • Count 6: Committing perjury by failing to disclose Sharks game gifts
  • Count 7: Failing to cooperate with internal affairs investigation surrounding treatment of Andrew Hogan
Smith testified before a grand jury last August, and along with her second-in-command ended up invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to almost every question.

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.”

Apparently keeping quiet didn’t help as much as she was hoping. As sheriff, Smith was supposed to sign off on all concealed carry applications, so it’s really hard to argue that she was unaware of the misdeeds of her underlings. And if that is her defense, then what does that say about her ability to properly oversee her office?
There are a couple of other interesting wrinkle in the indictments handed down on Tuesday. Unlike Smith’s undersheriff and sheriff’s captain, who are facing charges of bribery related to the issuing of carry permits for members of Apple’s corporate security team in exchange for donations of iPads and allegations that the pair approved carry licences after five-figure donations were made to a supposedly independent group backing Smith’s re-election campaign, the indictments against the sheriff herself make no specific mention of those incidents.
Instead, Smith is accused of illegally accepting a gift from an insurance broker named Harpreet Chada, who was previously indicted for letting Smith use his suite at the San Jose Sharks’ arena in exchange for approving his own concealed carry permit.
But not only is Smith accused of giving VIP’s rarely-approved carry permits, she’s also been indicted for keeping applications from average citizens in limbo. I’m somewhat surprised but very pleased that a grand jury in one of the most liberal areas of California recognized the wrong in both providing special access to the right to bear arms to those who can afford to pay for it and in showing such contempt for everyday citizens that she didn’t even have the courtesy to officially tell them she was rejecting their applications.
Of course, the easiest way to ensure that the corruption alleged in Santa Clara County can’t happen elsewhere is to simply adopt a “shall issue” process for concealed carry license (I’d prefer Constitutional Carry, to be honest, but this is California we’re talking about). Remove the authority for the sheriff to approve or deny carry applications for the most subjective of reasons, and you get rid of their ability to engage in the type of pay-to-play bribes and under-the-table deals alleged in the grand jury’s indictment.
Not that I expect the Democrats who have a supermajority in the California legislature to take that step. If anything changes for the better for California gun owners, it’s going to come as a result of the Supreme Court, not the supremely anti-gun politicians in Sacramento.