(CN) — A grand jury has indicted a Santa Clara County sheriff’s captain and three others for an alleged bribery scheme in which concealed firearm permits were traded for large donations to the sheriff’s reeelection campaign.
Sheriff’s Department Captain James Jensen, gun parts manufacturer Michael Nichols, and attorneys Christopher Schumb and Harpaul Nahal allegedly conspired with a middle manager and CEO of AS Solution Inc., an international security company, to offer a $90,000 bribe in exchange for coveted concealed gun permits for the company’s executive protection agents.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced the charges during a press conference in San Jose Friday.
“[Concealed firearm] licenses should not be given in exchange for campaign donations,” Rosen said. “They should not be for sale.”
Rosen said the investigation started shortly after Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith won reelection in a hotly contested race in November 2018. The probe was sparked by a local publication’s inquiry about executive security licensing and an extremely large campaign donation reported in public filings.
The DA claims the conspirators agreed to exchange the $90,000 campaign donation for 10 to 12 concealed firearm permits. Martin Nielsen, an AS Solution manager, allegedly donated the first installment as a $45,000 personal check to the Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance (SCPSA), an independent expenditure committee supporting Sheriff Smith.
The $45,000 dwarfed all other campaign contributions and represented more than half of all funds raised by the committee. Nielsen allegedly handed the check to the SCPSA’s assistant treasurer Schumb. The DA’s office says the second installment of $45,000 was forestalled by its investigation.
Rosen described a corrupt system in which concealed firearm permits submitted by regular members of the public were “tossed in a filing cabinet and forgotten,” but campaign contributors were given “VIP” status.
“If you are in the words of Sheriff’s Captain James Jensen, ‘a VIP,’ they’ll meet you at Starbucks, personally review your application and help you fill it out,” Rosen said. “You don’t even need to live in the county, which is required by law.”
According to a 16-page indictment, gun parts maker Nichols told attorney Nahal in an April 30, 2018, text message, “I need you to meet my buddy that runs the Facebook Executive protection team” followed by, “it’s a potential $50K.”
Nielsen and AS Solutions CEO Christian West later met with Nichols, Nahal and Shumb at the Sainte Claire Club in San Jose on May 3, 2018, where they discussed fundraising for the sheriff’s reelection campaign, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say Nichols then introduced Nielsen to Sheriff’s Captain Jensen at a campaign fundraising event on May 10 where they “agreed in principle” that AS Solutions would make a campaign contribution in exchange for concealed weapon permits.
Later that month, Nielsen and West met Jensen, Nahal and Nichols at a Jamba Juice in San Jose where they settled on a $90,000 donation in exchange for 10 to 12 concealed firearm permits, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say Nielsen gave Schumb the first installment in a $45,000 check on Oct. 3, 2018, after he wired $70,000 from his AS Solutions business account.
The indictment charges Jensen with conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery, conspiracy to submit a falsified concealed firearm permit application and seven counts of falsifying public records. He faces a maximum 11 years and eight months in state prison.
Nahal, Nichols and Schumb face charges of bribery and conspiracy to commit bribery. Both charges carry a maximum four years in state prison.
Rosen would not say if Sheriff Laurie Smith is a target of the investigation, but he emphasized that the investigation is ongoing.
“I expect more charges will be filed against more individuals in the coming weeks and months,” Rosen said.
A report by NBC Bay Area in June found people who donated to Sheriff Smith’s campaign were 14 times more likely to be granted a concealed weapon permit.