Exclusive: Sheriff Smith, Second-in-Command Take the Fifth

Santa Clara County’s elected sheriff and the department’s second-in-command invoked their right against self-incrimination instead of answering questions from prosecutors before a criminal grand jury earlier this month.

Sheriff Laurie Smith and Undersheriff Rick Sung declined to answer when they appeared as witnesses for an inquest into a political contribution and concealed weapons permits issued to members of Facebook’s contract security team.

To date, five people people have been indicted in the alleged pay-to-play scheme on charges ranging from falsification of documents to conspiracy to bribe a public official. Neither Smith nor Sung stand accused of a crime.

On Aug. 3, from a witness stand at the old Santa Clara County Superior Courthouse, Sheriff Smith almost immediately began taking the Fifth.

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.”

Chase pressed on.

“OK,” he said. “Sheriff, what I’m going to do is just ask a few questions just to make sure that you are—to see if you are going to answer questions in any area.”

“OK.”

“You don’t have to go through the whole—we understand you will be invoking that particular privilege if you invoke,” Chase explained, “and you don’t have to go through the whole thing if you don’t want. It will probably be about eight questions total.”

He asked if he could name some people to find out what she knew of them, whether they’re personal acquaintances and whether they supported her 2018 re-election.

“No, sir,” she replied. “I will assert my privilege.”

Would she answer questions about Undersheriff Rick Sung? Or Capt. James Jensen, who’s one of five people charged in the case?

“No, sir. Same privilege.”

What about general questions on the Sheriff’s Advisory Board, how it works, how you become a member and so forth?

“No, sir. Again, I will be asserting my privilege.”

Questions on her public information officers and their role in processing applications for concealed-carry weapons licensing?

“No, sir.”

Questions about how she handled those gun permits during her tenure as sheriff?

“No, sir. Again, I will assert my privilege.”

What of the Santa Clara County public Safety Alliance, the independent expenditure committee that accepted a $45,000 check from a contributor who allegedly organized a plan to secure multiple CCWs?

“No, sir. Again, asserting my privilege.”

Chase soldiered on.

“Just have possibly another one,” he said, turning to look at papers on a table before him. “I just want to check my notes.”

Would she answer questions about Martin Nielsen, the guy who wrote that $45,000 check on behalf of AS Solution, the executive protection firm he worked for? What about his colleagues assigned to Facebook’s executive security detail: Rachel Paskvan, Jonathan Taunton and Leonard Lawrence?”

Nope.

“Thank you,” Chase replied, “and you are excused.”

Sung took the same stand and invoked the same privilege a day later. This time, Deputy DA Matt Braker lobbed the questions and Sung took the Fifth right out of the gate.

“Good morning, Undersheriff Sung,” Braker began. “Can you tell us how long you have worked at the Sheriff’s Office?”

“Based upon the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 15 of the California­­ Constitution, and California Evidence Code 940, I respectfully decline to answer,” Undersheriff Sung replied.

“Mr. Sung, are you going to invoke that right and that privilege to all questions that are asked of you today regarding the matters this grand jury is investigating?” Braker asked.

Sung answered affirmatively.

“Just to be clear, I want to ask you [about a] couple areas to be more specific,” Braker continued. “If I were to ask you questions about your involvement in the campaign for Laurie Smith's re-election in 2018, would you invoke your Fifth Amendment right to not answer those questions?”

“Yes.”

“If I were to ask questions regarding your involvement in CCW issuances in the years 2018 [ and] 2019 would you invoke the privilege as well? “

Again, yes.

“With that,” Braker concluded, “I will not ask any further questions.”

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. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

19 Comments

  1. So they’re Communists, what’s wrong with that? But maybe we need a state law saying a public employee waives employment and pension when they take the 5th. What could possibly be incriminating? Do they work for the people or the other side?

  2. From a long ago description of a short, fat, cigar-smoking mobster testifying before an investigating committee:

    “He sat at the witness table like a frog on a lily pad, dripping hostility from hooded eyes, and repeatedly croaking ‘duh privilege.'” — James J. Kilpatrick

    After 47 years of blindly following her ambition instead of her profession’s ethics, it looks like Laurie has taken her place on the lily pad.

  3. > Laurie Smith is a registered Republican and has been a pox on Santa Clara County for 40+ years

    The Republican Party is pretty much a nothing in California.

    It’s harmless.

    The belief that Republicans cause a pox is pretty much the same as believing evil spirits cause toothaches.

  4. dems voted her in not republicans

    you know who else acts like a neo-con republicans that dems vote in?

    pretty much all the third-way dems like both clintons, biden, harris, obama

    thats why mccain, romney, bush, krystol, and all those other never-trumpers on the latest dnc conv

    i can fill a book with idiot republican politicians, dont get me wrong

    but dems picked her, even if those dems are war-mongering, drug-warriors like biden

  5. Ask her Democratic consultant who is checking on his application to move to Turkmenistan.

  6. The degree corruption in Santa Clara County, Santa Clara City and San Jose is pervasive. Big campaign contributors own city councils, City Mayors, City Managers, Police and Sheriff. If you have a few thousand $, you can own your own sitting city council member as long as you are not bidding for a property that is owned by a higher bidder.

  7. We had the opportunity to boot her last election when it was clear she
    was dirty. No one should be surprised.

  8. There is no evidence of any kind against Laurie Smith and taking the 5th Amendment from the outset; in a Grand Jury hearing that is arranged by the DA in a situation where she is not allowed an attorney is a legal strategy. This whole fiasco is designed to incriminate her. She is not playing.

    There were many opportunities to interview her outside of a Grand Jury which were never sought. Many lawyers will advise clients not to make any statements that could be misinterpreted in a GJ setting or lead to a lengthy irrelevant exchange in the proceedings.

    Laurie has done nothing wrong, but the Media gets a headline. The fact that both she and the Undersheriff asserted their Constitutional Rights and were not indicted is simply more evidence there was no crime on their part.

  9. One more point; Jennifer is a good reporter. But someone allegedly leaked the GJ statements–because her descriptions of who did what during the hearing (not just the answers) ie. ‘turned to look at papers’ while asking questions—could not simply have come out of the transcripts. That information was not in the transcripts.

    Thus someone violated the law by leaking what happened in the GJ setting. But I guess that won’t be investigated.

  10. You’d be surprised and shocked at just how dishonest, incompetent and disgraceful Santa Clara County leadership really is.

    Supervisors, Jeff Smith, Garry Herceg, James Williams, the Sheriff and her “leadership staff” are just the doing what they always do – deny, ignore or feign ignorance. Let me guess, more quarterly awards and photos ops with not real progress, no better service delivery. Just sucking off the teat of the taxpayers.

    Hopefully, a reckoning is upon the County and citizens start to care about the waste and lack of service these individuals provide.

  11. “This whole fiasco is designed to incriminate her.”

    Anyone can talk all day and not incriminate themself. Unless they’ve done something criminal.

  12. The fact that both she and the Undersheriff asserted their Constitutional Rights and were not indicted is simply more evidence there was no crime on their part. — Rich Robinson

    “More evidence?” As a fair-minded citizen I would very much like to know what evidence there is of Laurie Smith’s innocence in this matter, given that, to date, none has been made public.

    Looking forward to being illuminated.

  13. Rich Robinson, like every broken clock, twice a day you’re correct. What you’re suggesting falls into that hated constitutional right called “Due Process”. But for Democrat’s that only lasts for 2 seconds a day! To bad no one seems to be interested in other more famous politicians that run their office on the age old practice of “PAY To Play”.

  14. Oh Rich, how I hope you sink with her ship, also. The whole lot of you who helped this woman float on her corruption for years, including you, Jen, deserve to sink with this ship.

  15. Lived in the county for 30 years, mostly in Gilroy. When I moved to Los Gatos in 2010, I saw my first signs of corruption radiating out of the LGPD and Los Gatos High. When my divorce started in the county, I knew it felt unfair in my hearings, and in countless others before Judge Grilli and Judge Towery.

    By 2014 attorney Nat Hales was appointed as a private judge and the corruption was so overt it felt like a bad dream.

    In 2015 sold a community magazine I had operated out of Los Gatos and that is when I began my formal training as an investigative reporter. I also went to John Chase about rea estate fraud and private judging. He did nothing by prosecute cops who killed Michael Tyree, and that is only because people were about to burn down the jails.

    There are no reporters in our area covering county government, the police and the courts as our Democracy intends. Violating the law is more commonplace in our elected officials than we know.

    Certainly Laurie Smith is not perfect, she once told me I could not record her in public, a federal right she should have known cold. But far worse is the elected DA, Jeff Rosen. This is a man from Wisconsin who came here on the skirt tails of the Karyn Sinunu- James Towery dynasty. Rosen has spent his 10 year career being tough on the poor, uneducated and the vulnerable, while giving the elite, corrupt and perverted immunity.

    The cop culture we see on our streets is by Rosen’s design. Nobody wonders why Rosen hasn’t brought a public corruption case for 5 years in a county that moves $8 billion a year and has parked $2 billion a year in off shore accounts to pay for pensions?

    Mike Wasserman is an idiot. A seemingly nice idiot, but an idiot, and he is no Republican.

    Laurie Smith is the only other elected Republican. And yet Trump never once turned his head to this county? There have been so many complaints to these elected officials it is mindboggling. Now they don’t even try to hide their corruption.

    Rosen sued his own legal adviser and political fundraiser. I assure you the Swamp is about to start draining in that case. Every lawyer knows you don’t sue your clients . Time for Schumb to have Wall start naming every donor Rosen ever targeted and every bad thing Rosen said behind their back. Schumb can take the 5th, but Rosen can’t !

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