By Jennifer Wadsworth
Four defendants in an alleged CCW bribery scheme have filed a motion to take Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen off the case.
John Joseph Wall Jr., the attorney for Christopher Schumb, argues that Rosen’s friendships and political ties create conflicts that prevent a fair prosecution.
“This criminal action brought by Rosen under the pretext of public integrity smacks of retribution and vindictiveness,” Wall writes.
Attorneys for Schumb’s co-defendants—Capt. James Jensen, Harpaul Nahal, Michael Nichols—expressed similar concerns today during their first court appearance since the DA unveiled the charges against them earlier this month.
Rosen and Chief Assistant DA Jay Boyarsky both cultivated a close relationship with Schumb, creating what Wall calls “a fatal conflict that cannot be ignored.” Yet the DA and his second-in-command “will be witnesses at trial, thereby creating an actual conflict that would render it unlikely that Mr. Schumb will receive a fair trial,” the motion states.
While Rosen has not accused Sheriff Laurie Smith of a crime, he is pursuing a case against several of her associates, which, according to Wall, presents ethical issues. The prosecution comes on the heels of “a well-documented power struggle” between Rosen and Sheriff Smith, the motion continues, “thereby precluding [the DA] from prosecuting this action in an objective and evenhanded manner.”
Schumb’s counsel goes on to describe how the DA has benefitted from the same political system that he accuses Sheriff Smith’s allies of exploiting.
“Over the course of six-plus years, Jeff Rosen solicited from Mr. Schumb legal advice, political advice, personal favors and money for his re-election campaigns,” Wall writes in his motion. “Mr. Schumb who served as a lawyer, fundraiser and personal friend to Mr. Rosen also served as a lawyer, fundraiser and personal friend to Sheriff Laurie Smith. The favors and graciousness Mr. Schumb provided to Sheriff Smith were substantially similar to those he provided to Jeff Rosen.”
In Wall’s telling, Schumb traces his friendship with Rosen back to the DA beating his predecessor, Dolores Carr, in the 2010 election. On the day after the polls closed, then-Deputy DA Boyarsky reportedly asked Schumb to grab lunch with him and the newly elected DA. “Schumb agreed and within the week the three dined together and a friendship ensued between Schumb and Rosen,” per the motion, “as did an attorney-client relationship in which Rosen sought legal counsel from Schumb.”
Over the ensuing years, specifically from 2013 to 2018, Wall says his client “exchanged at least 224 emails to and from Rosen’s personal email address.” He says Schumb also raised thousands of dollars for the DA’s election campaigns and, at Rosen’s behest, introduced him on many occasions to prospective donors.
In June of 2013, the motion states, Rosen asked Schumb to host a fundraiser for his upcoming re-election. Schumb says he obliged, hosting the event at his own home and raising thousands of dollars for Rosen. The DA also reportedly enlisted Schumb to set up various lunches and dinners with other established figures in the community so he could solicit their support, too, according to the motion.
Schumb’s attorney cites a Sept. 29, 2013, email in which Rosen asked Schumb to arrange a meeting with Frank Dorsa, who owns a winery that hosts political fundraisers—including one that figures into the DA’s ongoing bribery case.
“I have not previously met Frank,” Rosen wrote, according to the motion. “Perhaps, after the three of us have lunch, he will be willing to host a fundraiser at his home.”
“Also,” Rosen added, in a likely reference to local business owner Victor Duong, “when can we have tea with the Asian guys?”
Rosen ended the email by thanking Schumb and his wife for opening their home to support his re-election. “You’re a good and generous person,” he said.
When Kamala Harris ran in 2015 for the U.S. Senate, Schumb hosted a fundraiser for her at his San Jose home and featured Rosen as a speaker at the event. “Chris, [y]ou are the best,” Rosen wrote after the event in an email cited in Wall’s motion.
“The event was a success in all respects,” per the motion. “At the time, Rosen had expressed interest in running for California’s Attorney General and increase his stature in the public in the event he decided to run for attorney general.”
Wall argues that the scope and breadth of the friendship between Rosen ad Schumb was “broad and deep.” He says the DA sought advice from Schumb about a range of matters, from “the mundane to the extraordinary,” from asking for help about fixing a family heirloom to requesting help with political fundraisers.
Even after Rosen began serving search warrants in connection to his investigation into suspected bribery, the DA reportedly joined Schumb’s table at the Latino Leadership Alliance Fundraiser Dinner hosted on March 6, 2019, at the Silicon Valley Capital Club.
The motion claims that Schumb maintained a close, “if not closer,” relationship with Boyarsky, whom he invited to several San Francisco 49ers and Cal football games. Boyarsky and his boss accepted invitations to lunch with Schumb at the St. Claire Club in the summer of 2018, while the investigation into suspected bribery was well underway.
“The friendship between Schumb and Boyarsky extended to their wives, as well, and the two couples would have dinners together,” the motion goes on to say.
When a dispute arose between Rosen and the sheriff over the DA trying to gain unfettered access to inmate phone calls, Boyarsky asked Schumb—who counts Laurie Smith as a friend—to help resolve the impasse.
“In a conversation while discussing the jail recordings issue, Boyarsky told Schumb that Rosen was considering endorsing her [2018 re-election] challenger, John Hirokawa,” the motion reads. “Schumb responded by saying that it would be a bad political decision on Rosen’s part and explained why he felt that way.”
The motion then jumps to Aug. 6, 2020, when Rosen announced the indictment against Schumb and the other co-defendants. At the press conference unveiling the charges, Rosen introduced his team, including Boyarsky, whom he described as “actively involved in this investigation since its inception.”
During that presser, a reporter asked whether Rosen, because he works so closely with the sheriff’s office, had considered turning the alleged bribes-for-CCW case over to the California Attorney General. DA Rosen responded by saying the AG had already determined that there was no conflict.
Standing outside the San Jose Hall of Justice today, Rosen once again defended his office’s ability to handle and prosecute the case objectively.
John Chase, who leads the DA’s Public Integrity Unit, has successfully prosecuted local public officials before, Rosen explained. He noted that his office secured convictions against three Santa Clara County jail guards who in 2015 beat an inmate to death. A few years before that, they managed to convict ex-Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa Jr. of corruption, duping political donors and gambling with taxpayer money.
“Our Public Integrity Unit under Mr. Chase has long been very vigorous in holding law enforcement and elected officials accountable,” the DA said.
During the brief hearing today at the Hall of Justice, Schumb, Nahal, Jensen and Nichols asked Santa Clara County Judge Eric S. Geffon if they could hold off on entering pleas until the court has a chance to consider their request to take Rosen off the case.
The petition was filed this morning at a hearing in which a fifth defendant, ex-AS Solution CEO Christian West, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of conspiring to offer bribes for concealed gun permits and for falsifying applications to obtain them.
According to West’s lawyer, Tim Crudo, the former executive protection official admitted guilt in hopes of getting those charges reduced to misdemeanors if he continues to cooperate with prosecutors as they continue their investigation. Under the plea bargain he worked out with Rosen, West will face up to 18 months in jail—half the time he could have served if convicted of the two felony counts.
All five of the accused appeared Aug. 31 at the Hall of Justice alongside their attorneys. Schumb showed up with Wall, Capt. Jensen with Harry Stern, Nahal with Christian Picone, Nichols with Sam Polverino.
Rosen observed the proceedings from the public seating area in Department 24 before heading outside to take questions from reporters.
Standing in front of the Hall of Justice, Rosen declined to answer questions about the motion to disqualify, saying he hadn’t had a chance to read it. But he called West’s plea “a significant development” in the case.
West, a 51-year-old immigrant from Denmark whose legal name is Christian Hansen, served as CEO of AS Solution during the time of the alleged bribes.
According to prosecutors, West tasked one of his middle managers, Martin Nielsen, with finding a way to obtain concealed-carry gun permits. In California, the permits, known as CCWs, can only be authorized by police chiefs and sheriffs in an applicant’s home jurisdiction. The licenses are notoriously hard to get in Santa Clara County, where fewer than 150 people have managed to obtain them through the Sheriff’s Office.
The DA claims that Schumb and Nahal—both attorneys by trade—and The Gun Co. CEO Nichols helped Nielsen cut a deal in which a dozen AS Solution employees would get concealed-carry permits in exchange for donations to an independent expenditure (IE) committee supporting Sheriff Smith’s 2018 re-election. West allegedly gave Nielsen $90,000 to that end, with $45,000 going to a pro-Smith IE called the Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance about a month before the sheriff won her sixth term.
San Jose Inside’s inquiry about that conspicuously large donation prompted the DA to start investigating a possible link between Nielsen and the sheriff’s CCW permits.
Through their lawyers, Schumb, Jensen, Nahal and Nichols deny wrongdoing. Nielsen, who helped prosecutors collect evidence on the others, has not been charged.
Rosen said his office would reduce the charges against West if he keeps helping prosecutors and testifies honestly at court hearings.
“Mr. West has cooperated with this investigation and testified truthfully to the grand jury about the scope of this conspiracy and bribery scheme,” Rosen said in a prepared statement after court today. “The law recognizes, and common sense tells us, that a person who accepts responsibility for what he did, pleads guilty, and helps redress the harm he has caused, is deserving of mitigation and a lighter sentence.”
The investigation is still underway, according to the DA, who told reporters today that he plans to file more charges against more people in the coming weeks.
“We are not done,” Rosen said.