DA Targets Sheriff’s Inner Circle in Apparent Corruption Probe

Though it took the targets of the search by surprise, the seizure of cell phones, computers and electronic records was months in the making.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office served a search warrant early Aug. 2 at Sheriff Laurie Smith’s command hub as part of a hushed, drawn-out investigation into one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent and enduring local political figures.

A spokesman for DA Jeff Rosen confirmed the search but declined to share much more in the way of detail. “The District Attorney’s Office retrieved certain items from the Sheriff’s Office, pursuant to a search warrant signed by a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge,” DA officials replied on Friday when reached for comment. “The retrieved items are part of an ongoing investigation, and therefore nothing more can be said at this time.”

That’s all anyone’s saying—at least on the record.

Under the cloak of anonymity, sources from other wings of the county’s sprawling bureaucracy corroborated enough details to sketch a rough outline of the inquiry. It involves concealed weapons permits, a large campaign donation of uncertain origin and at least one member of the sheriff’s inner circle: Capt. James Jensen.

Sheriff Smith didn’t respond to San Jose Inside’s queries about the search. Neither did Jensen, whose mobile phone went straight to voicemail. Nor her No. 2, Undersheriff Rick Sung. The sheriff’s longtime political adviser, attorney Rich Robinson, says he only learned about the search warrant in question when asked about it for this story. County Counsel James Williams had his secretary relay a “no comment.” But sources familiar with the events unfolding these past few days say they’re unsurprised by the DA’s inquiry.

“I know people do approach her for favors, for special privileges, especially during campaigns,” a veteran county law enforcement official says of the career law-woman. “But she always had a protector. You know what I mean? She’d have someone else do these things for her.”

Increasingly these past couple years, that’s been Jensen, who faithfully served Smith amidst his breakneck ascent from PIO to sergeant, lieutenant and captain.

Of course, when it comes time to sign for a concealed-gun authorization, the buck stops with Sheriff Smith. And this wouldn’t be the first time she’s come under fire for the way she doles out the coveted permits, or gives preferential treatment to people with clout.

While DA officials have been tight-lipped about what exactly they hope to find, a study of last year’s campaign records might offer some clues. In San Jose Inside’s review of financial filings, there’s one in particular that stands out: a Form 460 prepared by a pro-Smith independent expenditure committee called the Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance. It names once-self-described “king of mortgage brokers” James Campagna as treasurer and prominent attorney Chris Schumb as assistant treasurer.

The committee reported a total fundraising haul of $85,000 from July 1 to Oct. 20 last year and $93,000 spent on social media advertising during a four-month period.

About half of the money raised comprised several $5,000-apiece donations from Schumb, personal injury law firm Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, real estate investor Lance Tate, Nvidia co-founder Chris Malachowsky, ROEM Development Corporation, All Seasons Roofing & Waterproofing, Cybersci Inc. and Valley Water board member Gary Kremen of Match.com fame.

The other half of that fundraising total comes from a single donor of mysterious provenance. On Oct. 4, 2018, Martin Nielsen, who’s logged on the form as “executive protection manager” at AS Solution, chipped in $45,000.

That’s an oddly generous gift for a bodyguard, even for one who has protected at least one billionaire. Maybe the DA’s public integrity unit thought so, too.

First Lady

In the 20 years since becoming the first woman sworn in as sheriff in California, 67-year-old Laurie Smith has secured one election after another. Since her 1973 swearing-in as a deputy sheriff matron, the only position available to women at the time, the Michigan transplant rose through the ranks in a career marked by a series of firsts.

As a young officer, she became the agency’s first woman to work as a full-time undercover vice cop, posing in turn as a sex worker, a junkie and a purveyor of pilfered goods. After years laboring away in the patrol division, she became watch commander over the county’s two jails. In the early 1990s, Sheriff Chuck Gillingham promoted her to assistant sheriff. And in 1998, another first: Smith handily won the election to her current post, becoming the first woman in the agency’s 150-year history to take the helm and the first in the state to don the sheriff’s badge.

Over the course of her two decades in office, Sheriff Smith has also weathered one scandal after another—the worst of which involved the 2015 brutal beating death of mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree by three jail guards. The murder kicked off a slew of lawsuits and sweeping reforms at the county’s two jails. Within the past year, a federal consent decree elevated those initiatives to a legal mandate.

Internal unrest and public scrutiny notwithstanding, Smith has maintained power by rewarding fealty from subordinates and forging an improbable alliance with both the labor and business communities. Another factor in her durability has been a perennial lack of heavyweight political challengers.

Granted, last year’s race against her mild-mannered ex-second-in-charge, retired Undersheriff John Hirokawa, pushed her into a runoff for the first time ever. But Smith went on to land an unprecedented sixth term in the fall rematch despite a challenge funded by the cantankerous Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, which backed her opponent.

Barely a year into Smith’s latest term, however, the cracks again are beginning to show. And some of the people closest to her seem to be caught in the fissures.

It’s unclear whether the incidents are related, but authorities served the search warrant just two days after Sheriff Smith abruptly fired her confidential secretary Jennifer Roth.

Walk it off

On July 31, sources say county Human Resources Manager Christine Goodson walked up to Roth to inform her that she would be reassigned to a new job. According to sources apprised of the matter, Roth was given three reasons for her involuntary demotion: she’s unsmiling, unfriendly and refuses to make coffee.

Then, she was walked out the door.

The confidential secretary position is unique in the county charter. Each elected or Board of Supervisors-hired official can pick whomever they choose for the position of trust.

Roth didn’t return calls for comment. However, a veteran county bureaucrat who spoke on condition of anonymity called the handling of the demotion “severely troubling.”

A similar thing happened to Amy Le just a couple months ago.

On the last day of June, Le—a captain with a three-decade tenure at the Sheriff’s Office—was told to turn in her badge and escorted off the Elmwood Correctional Facility grounds, which she had overseen since her promotion from lieutenant six months prior.

It was a rude awakening for the longtime Smith loyalist, who in 2018 leveraged her position as president of the Santa Clara County Correctional Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA) to campaign for the sheriff’s re-election. As the first Vietnamese-American woman to helm the union and one of the highest-ranking female law enforcement officials in Silicon Valley, Le’s was a trophy endorsement for an embattled Smith.

“I worked many, many hours to campaign for her,” says Le, who also gave some of her own money to the campaign. “Emotionally, I supported her. I took a lot of heat, too, from people calling me a kiss-ass and all that. But I thought that she was a better candidate at the time because she’s female and fought hard to get to where she is, and I could relate to that. I am the only Vietnamese female to rise up to sergeant, lieutenant and captain, and I know the struggles women face, and I thought she understood that, too.”

After showing her allegiance, Le secured a promotion a few months later. Joining the top brass meant relinquishing union membership, but she says she welcomed the tradeoff. In her new post at Elmwood, Le says she tried to improve conditions for female correctional staff and the incarcerated women under their watch. She saw a gazebo and garden whose construction she initiated as an expression of that effort.

Absent county funding for a rest area she called the “gratitude garden,” Le collected private donations: $6,000 from her correctional officer husband, $2,500 from her former union and $500 each from a CPOA lawyer, a lieutenant and a deputy. Female inmates who voluntarily built the structure learned valuable vocational skills, Le says, and took pride in their work.

Sheriff Smith and her command staff were less thrilled about the project.

On May 31, Sheriff’s officials placed Le on paid leave while they investigated claims that she lied about the source of private funding for the gazebo. A week later, Le received a letter with another charge: that she ordered a jail employee to delete files on a work computer. The allegations seemed too trifling to merit the dramatic send-off, Le says, adding that it’s unheard of for someone of her rank to be unceremoniously rushed off the grounds on the basis of non-criminal allegations.

Le says the experience shook her.

On June 12, she gave up on arbitration by retiring, which lifted privacy restrictions that silenced her side of the story. Le, who’s now mulling legal action, says she’s shocked to hear about Roth’s treatment.

“To get walked off is very dramatic and is hurtful to not only us but to our relatives, too, because they don’t know what happened to us,” Le says. “The confidential secretary is handpicked by the sheriff, and for her to be treated this way is outrageous.”

With a criminal investigation into the department’s upper echelons now apparently underway and the county’s two elected law enforcement officials on opposite sides of a battle of titans, another shoe may soon drop.

Given the secrecy around the probe, it could be a big one.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

36 Comments

  1. Your news outlet is a piece of work. We had one good chance to eliminate Laurie’s corrupt leadership and that was John Hirokawa – you played into Laurie’s political agenda last year to set him up and blame him for employee texts that Laurie actually had the authority over. Now how do you feel? Maybe you should take note from The Mercury News on how to do ethical reporting and write objectively about the facts.

    • This!

      “Because of Santa Clara County’s refusal to provide documentation on applicants for concealed-gun licenses, it is unknown how many AS Solution employees, if any, received them in that county. Possession of a concealed-gun permit is a requirement for some jobs at AS Solution, according to the company’s online job listings.”
      We knew Smith was corrupt years ago. Sickening

  2. The Mercury Newx is not a local paper but a local officials’ PR! Metro has to improve but is getting there.

    • I am so sorry about your loss Michael. Way to many children and women are not being protected, were not protected, from the domestic terror of living with the enemies protected by these corrupted public officials. We are all together in this, and we won’t give up. WE THE PEOPLE HAVE TO BE UNITED AND PROTECT OUR CHILDREN, no blind eyes to domestic abusers! Way too much pain. ENOUGH!

  3. Ah those coveted carry permits, if she followed the court ruling half the people in town would be carrying a gun.
    Now don’t you wish she would have lost?

      • Ruling by the 9th circuit in 2014 on San Diego , now reversed by the 9th, and passed over by SCOTUS. I’m sure it will be back again.

        • As a career retired veteran combat leader, I was denied twice. Once after my wife was raped while I was deployed and again, 20 years later for lack of good cause, which I now know is a lie because we now know the truth: You must attach a $5K check to your application. I carried concealed without permit after my wife was raped. If you are the legal owner of the gun and not committing a crime and are caught with it, it is a minor misdemeanor and you will get your gun back after paying your fine. Actually cheaper than a CCW and much more cheaper than $5K! Not once in the last 20 years has anyone ever known I was carrying but me, which is the purpose of concealed carry. I will no longer apply for permits even if I know they would be approved because I am know of the position that it is none of anyone’s business.

          • > If you are the legal owner of the gun and not committing a crime and are caught with it, it is a minor misdemeanor and you will get your gun back after paying your fine.

            OH WOW!

            THIS IS BIG BIG BIG BIG BIG NEWS!

            Who knew?

            This is probably a classic example of the law of unintended consequences. The progs wanted to criminalize gun ownership anyway and everyway possible, and then propositions like 147 and 157 to decriminalize and uncriminalize everything.

            Result, HUGE numbers of Americans carrying heat AND the gubbermint doesn’t know, doesn’t get any revenue, and can’t really punish anyone. We might even call this “COMMON SENSE GUN LAWS”!

            Too good to be true!

  4. Not surprising there’s no information. We have violent crimes in this part of Santa Clara county (see the case of one Andre Redmon) and there’s ZERO information for citizens that pay the taxes that fund all this activity. Pathetic in every way, DA or sheriff’s office it’s all the same to me – a bunch of creeps completely disconnected from the population they’re supposed to service.

  5. I totally agree with you Wixell. The young woman from Gilroy who was almost chocked by her father a former San Jose Police Officer and Santa Clara County Sheriff Deputy has not been able to obtain a copy of her police report. The Gilroy Police told her she could no obtain a copy due to case being confidential and to go to the DA’s office. She was told at this office the case number she was given was for a Sunnyvale case and her name was not even there. The Gilroy Police, the Sheriff’s office, Julia A Emede protected this man that has engage in multiple crimes, the last one attempting to choke his daughter. Zoe Lofgren and Dave Cortese gave deaf ears to this case when the ex wife reported all the corruption, DV incidents, and the guy watching child porn. It is unknown as to what happened with the porn investigation. This is big time corruption this county can’t and should not take!

  6. Sounds like the Sheriff should have given Rosen and his minions unfettered access to those telephone calls from inmates. This definitely sounds like tit for tat. Rosen should know those that live in glass houses should not throw stones.
    As for some of the Sheriff’s choices, Jensen was found to have lied in the past and should have been on Rosen’s Brady list and most people who have worked around Sung would never be surprised if the word corruption is tied to him. Hirokawa was a bald face liar known too many who worked with him and he was never a real cop, well patrolling Monte Sereno was not real cop work. Smith is not perfect but when compared to her predecessor Chuckles, she has proven far better.
    Every Sheriff in Santa Clara County that I can recall back to Geary has been accused of some “favoritism” in handing out CCW’s, along with many Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs across the State. Heck, didn’t Geary, Winter and Gillingham give out badges to their supporters?

  7. Hey. Remember in 1998 she didn’t even live here. She’s been under investigation since the beginning. She wrecked the careers of great deputies with her personal agendas and lunatic leadership. I remember one time her people were beating up Arab kids at DeAnza, back around the turn of the century, and she was all smiles. .

  8. Okay….. let’s break this down shall we. Rosen is an adept politician. With Smith’s long tenure and political standing, Rosen would only attempt such a maneuver if he was certain it was enough to take Smith down. Warrants were served which means their is probably cause to believe a FELONY has been committed. Now it’s only a matter of time until Smith’s admin cannibalizes itself in an attempt to get the best plea deal. Time to sit back and watch the drama unfold!

  9. In normal circumstances the professional relationship between the Sheriff and the District Attorney is a cozy one. Something is terribly amiss here.

  10. No surprises at all. All of the Captains should be investigated. The most corrupt, unprofessional, cowardly department to be considered law enforcement. Obedience, sacrifice, and hypocrisy are the norms at HQ.

    • I worked for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, retiring honorably after 35 years of service in 2009. I am not corrupt, unprofessional nor was I subservient, hypocritical and as you well know not a coward. My sacrifices were for the people of Santa Clara County and my Family. That was the norm for the line staff at the Department of Correction and the Office of the Sheriff.

      • Joe Lopez I saw you endorsed Sheriff Laurie Smith and believed in her. Obviously you do not see her as corrupt so and are complicit since you have first hand knowledge by directly being cozy and connected with her. Well, maybe you are not corrupt but, hypocritical and subservient to Laurie Smith and her administration as your cowardice shows.

        • Michael Jimenez says Joe Lopez is …hypocritical and subservient to Laurie Smith and her administration as your cowardice shows.

          I don’t know either of them (or Rosen or Smith, for that matter), but that’s just name-calling. Why poison the well with personal attacks?

          Sometimes a subordinate prefers one leader over another — just like a citizen can vote for the lesser of two evils. What’s wrong with that? That’s often the only choice, and it certainly doesn’t indicate “cowardice.”

          One thing is clear in all of this: Sheriff Smith was preferred by the citizens of this County in six straight elections. But the DA thinks the voters were wrong, so now he’s decided to fix things.

          Mr. Rosen seems to be getting into lots of personal fights that might satisfy his power trip, or whatever is motivating him. But he’s not doing much for the residents of this County, and the time and resources he diverts into these witch hunts means County residents aren’t being served in other areas, like the increasintg violence, where the DA’s office is needed far more.

          I worry a lot more about an out of control DA like Rosen than I do about this Sheriff. He’s acting like a bully, and after reading other stories about Mr. Rosen, almost anyone else on the ballot will be ‘the lesser of two evils’.

  11. what do you want to bet she will retire and never be held accountable for her corruption?

    I’m still very curious about the Andre Redmon case as well.

    We have a dead person who has never been identified and local reporters seem to be completely ignoring the case.

    Why?

    When the case first broke it had all the requirements for some serious investigative reporting.

    Since then, crickets………..

    Perhaps Wadsworth could look into it.

    Once she gets to the bottom of her in depth Kaepernick doll Pulitzer story.

  12. Who knows the details of Jeff Rosen being investigated by the Fair Political Practice Commission?

  13. SJ METRO SUCKS,

    Given the same choice today, I’d still vote for Smith over Hirokawa.

    As always, YMMV.

  14. Sounds like women can be very conniving in this instance. Will men be fired or are all the top leadership female? Sounds to me that the Queen will need to step down or be sent to the tower herself.

  15. Well I wonder when the first crime was committed. Whoever they are after may lose their entire pension. This is the law that was passed after the City of Bell, CA scandal.

    “Under the California Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013, members who have been convicted on or after January 1, 2013, by a state or federal trial court of any felony under the law for conduct arising out of or in the performance of his or her official duties must forfeit all accrued rights and benefits in ANY public retirement system they are a member of at the time the felony is committed retroactive to the first commission date of the crime.”

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