Lawyers, Guns and Money: Four Charged in Corruption Probe

Two local attorneys, an elite gun specialist and a senior member of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith’s command staff will face charges in connection with an investigation into the issuance of concealed weapons permits.

The probe targeting Sheriff Smith’s inner circle—triggered by San Jose Inside’s inquiry into a conspicuously generous and apparently laundered campaign contribution—culminated in an indictment against four defendants.

After a year-and-a-half of undercover stings and court-authorized searches of high-ranking sheriff’s officials and their political allies—District Attorney Jeff Rosen announced the charges today at a press conference behind the his West Wing office.

The indictment names attorneys Christopher Schumb and Harpaul Nahal, Milpitas weapons instructor and manufacturer Mike Nichols and Capt. James Jensen.

The felony charges include bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and, in the case of Jensen, falsifying public records. Jensen could face up to 11 years in prison and the others up to three to four years, Rosen told reporters this morning.

The four defendants are set to be arraigned on Aug. 31 at the Hall of Justice.

Smith is not accused of a crime. Neither is Martin Nielsen, a manager at executive protection firm AS Solution whose campaign donation raised Rosen’s suspicion almost two years ago. But the DA said the investigation is far from over.

“We are not done,” he assured.

DA Jeff Rosen Unveils Indictment in CCW Investigation 8-7-20

Posted by San Jose Inside on Friday, August 7, 2020

In the DA’s telling, the four defendants conspired with a middle manager at an executive protection firm to bribe Capt. Jensen in exchange for concealed weapons permits. The alleged scheme unfolded two years ago when Sheriff Smith was in the midst of a competitive re-election bid with her former No. 2, Undersheriff John Hirokawa.

“The DA’s investigation began shortly after the general election in 2018, sparked by an inquiry from the Metro Silicon Valley weekly [San Jose Inside’s parent publication] about executive security licensing and an extremely large campaign donation, which was reported in public filings,” the DA wrote in a news release.

A resulting probe revealed that weeks after the plot was hatched, the defendants settled on a $90,000 “donation” for 10 to 12 concealed weapons permits, Rosen said.

After submitting seven applications for the permits at a private meeting, Nielsen—a bodyguard-turned supervisor at Seattle-based AS Solution—allegedly donated the first half of the bribe to the Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance, an independent expenditure committee supporting Smith’s most recent re-election.

Nielsen then handed the $45,000 check to Schumb, the committee’s assistant treasurer. The donation represented more than half of the funds raised by the committee that year.

A second donation was forestalled by the DA’s resulting investigation.

According to the charging documents released today, Nichols reached out to Nahal on April 30, 2018, to find out how to get AS Solution staffers the hard-to-come-by hidden-carry permits. “I need to you to meet my buddy that runs the Facebook Executive protection team,” Nichols allegedly texted Nahal. He added: “it’s a potential $50K.”

On May 3, 2018, investigators say Nielsen and AS Solution CEO Christian West met with Nichols, Nahal and Schumb at the Sainte Claire Club in San Jose.

Per the DA, Schumb told the group about his fundraising for Smith’s re-election and urged Nielsen to attend the Best in the West SWAT contest hosted by the Sheriff’s Office and to reach out to then-Lt. Jensen at the event.

A week later, according to the DA, Nichols introduced Nielsen to Jensen at the SWAT competition, where the latter allegedly agreed to secure concealed gun permits for AS Solution in exchange for a donation from the company.

After the event, Nielsen reportedly texted West: “Done with SWAT competition. Met the players for CCW [concealed carry weapon] issuance. We gonna do drinks and cigars after DC/NY. Up to 3-4 people per address in Santa Clara ... it’s looking good. Now just timeline for donations and event to present and (sic) amount ...”

Later that month, Nielsen and West met again with Jensen, Nahal and Nichols at the Jamba Juice on Coleman Avenue, where they allegedly agreed that the licenses would be issued to up to a dozen AS Solution employees in exchange for a $90,000 contribution to the pro-Smith re-election committee.

On June 19, 2018, Nielsen—allegedly at Jensen’s behest—enlisted AS Solution manager Jack Stromgren to list fake employer names, job titles and local addresses in the CCW applications, which are only open to local residents.

One of the applications with falsified employment records included those of AS Solution employee Rachael Paskvan, whose involvement was reported by San Jose Inside last fall, as well as those of several colleagues. Jensen also lied about county Supervisor Mike Wasserman completing the firearm proficiency requirement, per the indictment.

Nielsen allegedly met up with Jensen on July 26, 2018, at the Coleman Avenue Starbucks to hand off CCW applications for himself, West and several other bodyguards. After the meeting, Nielsen reportedly texted West: “CCWs are in” ... “Chris Schaum (sic) will reach out to me soon about financial part.” On Aug. 14, 2018, Nielsen reportedly texted email addresses of the AS Solution applicants to Jensen.

More than a month passed when Jensen, after a meeting at Schumb’s law office, reached out to Nielsen again, telling him that the initial $45,000 donation for a $5,000-a-plate fundraiser supporting Smith would cover only nine dinners.

On Sept. 28, 2018, Nielsen met up at the same Coleman Avenue Starbucks to give Jensen an application from yet another AS Solution employee.

Days later, on Oct. 2, 2018, investigators say Nielsen moved $45,000 into his personal checking account from $70,000 that had been wired a day prior into his account from AS Solution. (San Jose Inside first reported the $70,0000 deposit on Sept. 27, 2019.)

After the money transfer, Nielsen allegedly texted Jensen: “Fyi. All set for tomorrow.”

A day later, Jensen responded by texting the address to Schumb’s law office, where Nielsen showed up to personally hand over a $45,000 check.

Source: Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance

In the months to follow Nielsen went on to give Jensen still another CCW application, according to the DA. As February of 2019 was drawing to a close, however, Nielsen complained to Schumb about still waiting on the permits to come through, per the charging documents, which say Schumb responded by promising to “make a call.” Schumb then allegedly called Jensen on his work and personal cellphones.

A few weeks passed before Jensen made good on his pledge, according to the charging documents. On March 12, 2019, during a lunch at Antipasto’s in San Jose’s East Side, Jensen signed Nielsen’s range qualification paperwork—a prerequisite for CCW permit approval, prosecutors allege. Two AS Solution applicants took their own firearm qualification training about a week later at the sheriff’s shooting range in Morgan Hill.

In early April, Jensen told Nielsen that his permit and those for two of his colleagues were ready to be picked up, according to the indictment. Nielsen picked up his license—signed by Sheriff Smith—the following day.

Jensen circled back with Nielsen a few months later, on July 11, 2019, to allegedly suggest that he make the second $45,000 donation to the Sheriff’s Advisory Board.

After waiting several months for the DA’s investigation to gain momentum, San Jose Inside broke news about the probe after learning that investigators served search warrants on some members of the sheriff’s top brass.

At the press conference today, Rosen said CCWs should never be for sale and that Capt. Jensen abused the program by undermining the fairness of the application process.

“There are two policies for those seeking CCW licenses,” the DA said from behind a podium, flanked by some of the prosecutors who worked on the case. “For average members of the public, no matter how pressing or justified their need, if they follow the procedure laid out on the sheriff’s website, it will not be reviewed. Instead it’ll be tossed in a filing cabinet and forgotten. However, if you are, in the words of sheriff Capt. James Jensen a VIP,then he will meet you at Starbucks, personally review your application and help you fill it out. You don’t even need to live in the county, which is required by law. And Capt. Jensen will even waive the required firearms testing at the gun range.”

Of the four defendants, only Capt. Jensen—by way of his attorney Harry Stern—responded to a request for comment.

“James is devastated by this development,” he wrote in an email to San Jose Inside this afternoon. “It is extremely painful to have his integrity questioned after spending years dedicated to serving the people of Santa Clara County. I haven’t been provided any evidence at this point, but broadly speaking I believe that all of the folks involved were legally able to obtain the permits. Moreover, he doesn’t have the authority to grant permits nor did he receive anything for processing them. Given that I haven’t been provided discovery yet, I am not in a position to add anything else.”

Rosen said that he hopes the investigation proves that he’s committed to pursuing justice no matter how influential or well-connected the defendants.

Chris Schumb is one of Silicon Valley's most prominent kingmakers. I(llustration by Kathy Manlapaz)

Schumb, a San Jose native, is a prominent attorney and political fundraiser who specializes in employment law and represents teachers’ union members. A graduate of Santa Clara University School of Law, he was a strong supporter of District Attorney Dolores Carr, whom DA Rosen unseated in 2010.

Nahal has practiced business law for a decade and is based in San Jose.

Mike Nichols, a Milpitas resident, owns The Gun Co. (Illustration by Kathy Manlapaz)

Nichols owns The Gun Co., a firearms manufacturer with high-profile clients in the entertainment industry as well as executive protection and law enforcement.

According to posts ton the company’s Facebook page, The Gun Co. has collaborated with AS Solution over the past couple years, designing custom handgun hardware for the executive firm since at least 2019.

One photo on the gun maker’s Instagram show Nicholas and the AS Solution CEO at the gun range. Another thanks West for partnering with the gun manufacturing company.

Other notable clients touted by The Gun Co. include rapper Post Malone and The Muscle, a co-host of Discovery Channel reality show Diesel Brothers.

[Editor’s note: Post Malone’s management team told San Jose Inside that a Facebook post in which The Gun Co. claims to have done “a full custom build” for him was an unauthorized marketing ploy. “Post never purchased anything from them,” a spokesman for entertainer said. “Someone tried to get Post to take those photos backstage, which is something a lot of companies try to do. But that’s all it was.”]

Capt. James Jensen was named as one of four defendants. (Illustration by Kathy Manlapaz)

Since joining the Sheriff’s Office in 2000, Jensen rose through the ranks to become a key member of Smith’s command staff and 2018 campaign for her re-election.

He served as a spokesman for the department—a role in which he helped handle concealed weapons applications—before being promoted to lieutenant in 2016 and captain after Smith secured victory against Hirokawa in the fall of 2018.

Sgt. Michael Low, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, announced today that Jensen will be placed on administrative leave immediately. “We will continue to monitor the situation and have no further information to provide at this time,” he added.

Allegations of favoritism have dogged Sheriff Smith’s concealed-carry program for years. Unlike most California counties, which are far more generous with the weapons permits, Smith keeps a tight grip on them.

According to an NBC Bay Area analysis of applications from 2014 to 2018, Smith granted permits to just 62 of the 749 people who asked for one.

The TV news outlet determined that donors to Smith’s political campaigns were 14 times more likely to secure a coveted permit than everyone else.

Political donors comprised less than 4 percent of applicants during that timeframe but 35 percent of those awarded the permits, NBC Bay Area found.

This article was updated to include a statement from Post Malone’s management team. 

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.

14 Comments

  1. > Lawyers, Guns and Money: Four Charged in Corruption Probe

    The real criminal is whoever it was who was making concealed weapons permits so difficult to obtain.

    My understanding is that current court rulings have eliminated the requirement that a permit seeker have a “valid reason”.

    The Bill of Rights is a “valid reason”.

    If the sheriff were issuing permits as lawfully required, no bribery would be necessary or possible.

  2. In a county that shields from consequences one type of crime (illegal entry into the country) it seems only fair to apply (or at least attempt to) the same philosophy to other crimes. And being a fair guy, I’m going to give it a try.

    The illegal entry into this country, almost always motivated by financial gain, is the direct result of the offender’s need besting his/her fear of consequences. The offense is presumed, especially by those who favor sanctuary, to constitute evidence of the offender’s desperation and lack of legitimate options. One problem with illegal entry is that it promotes other lawbreaking (fraudulent use of SSN’s, hiring violations by employers, etc.), which necessitates extending amnesty beyond the immigration code. Not to worry, however, for in this county such violations are ignored.

    So what’s this got to do with this case? Well, first of all, the motive. The civilians involved wanted only to obtain the tools necessary for their business. Second, just as it is with illegal aliens, these men had no other option, intended to hurt no one with their actions, but did cause other laws to be broken (by officials).

    It can be argued that if America had a robust guest worker program far fewer foreigners would opt to cross illegally. It can also be argued that if the county’s CCW permit program were responsibly run the civilians in this case would never have broken the law.

    Notwithstanding the DA’s charging decisions, these civilians did nothing immoral. In fact, I don’t think theirs can rightly be called crimes against prohibitions, for CCW is not outlawed. Instead, I see theirs as crimes against process, a process intentionally perverted by a corrupt sheriff. Given the powerful demand in this area for VIP protection, and the universal demand that it be armed protection, it is all but a certainty the sheriff intentionally perverted the CCW permit process for use as her political cash cow.

    The captain in this scandal is screwed, his penalty for selling himself to the she-devil (the permeability of her insulation remains to be determined). But what you can count on is that the real beneficiaries of this type of corruption, corporate VIP’s so well-protected by gunmen and lavish fortresses they never hesitate when funding anti-police radicals, have not one thing to fear from any government official in this county, not even the daring and resourceful Lone Rosen.

  3. Jensen’s lawyer said Jensen didn’t receive anything? How about this line in this article: “…promoted to *lieutenant* in 2016 and *captain* after Smith secured victory against Hirokawa in the fall of 2018.”
    That’s a nice payoff

  4. There are hardly any women in law enforcement or security and you go after two here. How about looking into all those “male colleagues” Jennifer.

  5. How did I “go after” anyone? I’m not bringing the indictment, just reporting on it.

  6. Jennifer, thank you for covering this very important story, and ending on such a strong note.
    ” Unlike most California counties, which are far more generous with the weapons permits, Smith keeps a tight grip on them.”
    This is really the issue — that Smith and her office are so out of step with the rest of California counties. In most places, a clean record, a desire for self protection, and a shooting range test are enough to qualify for a concealed carry permit.

    These days, folks are waking up to the reality that it’s not a great situation when the police have all the power. It’s always baffling to me that so many people in Silicon Valley simultaneously believe that the police are a white supremacist institution, but that only the police should be allowed to carry firearms for self protection. Perhaps that is changing with the tremendous upsurge of gun sales recently, as more people are gaining a realistic appreciation of how life actually works.

    Kudos again, for an excellent article. Please keep up the good work!

  7. @ LONG TIME CALIFORNIAN

    I suggest the source of your bafflement lies in the wild assumptions you make regarding what “so many” here believe about the police. Upon what evidence is it based? The emotion-laden, immature jackasses who take to the streets, assault persons and property, and account for less than 1% of the population? It’s even hard to believe many of them are so stupid as to see white supremacy in the many colored faces of the local police. As for what “so many” believe about private gun ownership, there exists no evidence that those who oppose it also believe cops are white supremacists.

    This CCW story is not about police having “all the power,” it is about an elected sheriff, a law enforcement officer who has been winning at politics her entire career, turning the authority vested in her into a product, and marketing it exclusively for her benefit. That is corruption, pure and simple, and if sufficient evidence is secured she deserves to be prosecuted.

  8. Sheriffs and police chiefs in populated counties make it hard to get a CCW. The sheriffs and police chiefs in less populated areas are much more likely to give you a CCW.

  9. Sometimes the absence of information is equally important.
    1. Where’s the shock and dismay claim from Smith? And a promise of a thorough investigation?
    2. Why not rescind the CCWs issued under false circumstances?
    3. Where’s the commitment to return the $45K campaign bribe? Isn’t there something in election law about this?

    It defies credulity that Smith was oblivious about the origin of most of her campaign donations or failing to review operational data like CCWs issued to political elites, but denied to those that are actually threatened like domestic violence victims.

  10. Trina the troll knows nothing of what his happening. He needs help, he is a mentally ill person whose attacks people with no knowledge of what he does. We know who he is, but the coward refuses to use his own name.

  11. The rumors and reputation have been there for years, and it’s not just this county. Too many other counties have the same pay for play reputation. Standard California politics.

    No worries though, they will get a cushy cell just like Leland Yee. The prominent anti-gun Democrat from SF that was accused of arms trafficking, murder for higher and bribery with the Dragon’s Head of the Triads. He bargained it down to racketeering and was released in only 5 years.

    Can’t make this stuff up, it’s all ll true look it up.

    These are only the ones that get caught.

  12. How many California teachers were denied their due process because they couldn’t personally pay Chris Schumb exorbitant fees out of their own pocket when the CTA was supposed to by paying him? His Pay to Play isn’t new. Somebody needs to investigate all those years of CTA referrals and find out how many of the teachers actually got representation if they didn’t pay Schumb out of pocket. I think you might find a nice round number like zero.

  13. Leeland Yee and Chris Schumb are both darlings of the California Teachers Association. It’s weird cause the CTA claims to be for gun reform, but their sweethearts seem to have some weird things going with guns. Hopefully an investigation into the rumors and allegation of Schumb’s using teachers as a cash cow and then pulling out and denying them representation because they can’t keep paying him after he churns through their CTA allotment will happen.

  14. @Savannah (if that really is your name), cause I doubt that any woman would see what’s happened as sexist.
    Literally every single one of these scumbags that have been indicted are men. If these sleezebags do time in prison, it will be the single biggest step to breakup The Good Ole Boy’s club in Santa Clara County history. There is a lot of sexism in this valley, but shining a light on these guys isn’t an example of it.

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