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September 22, 2020

Four charged in probe of sheriff’s office

DA announced result of year-long investigation Aug. 7

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 investigation targeting Sheriff Laurie Smith’s inner circle, triggered by a disproportionate and possibly laundered campaign contribution, produced the four civil grand jury indictments.

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 at a 10am Friday press conference.

Attorneys Christopher Schumb and Harpaul Nahal, Milpitas weapons instructor and dealer Mike Nichols and Capt. James Jensen were named in the indictments.

The 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 other three up to four years, Rosen said.

San Jose native Christopher Schumb is a prominent attorney and political fundraiser who specializes in employment and labor law and represents teachers’ union members. Schumb is 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.

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

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

According to posts on 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 protection firm in 2019. Other notable clients include rapper Post Malone and The Muscle, a co-host of Discovery Channel reality show Diesel Brothers.

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 ex-Undersheriff John Hirokawa in fall 2018.

San Jose Inside broke news of the investigation exactly a year ago to the day, after learning about the DA seizing computers, cellphones and boxes of records about the sheriff’s concealed weapons program.

Targets of the searches included Undersheriff Rick Sung, Capt. Jensen and then-PIO Sgt. Reginald Cooks. Mortgage lender Jim Campagna and Schumb, treasurer and assistant treasurer of an independent election committee that supported Smith’s re-election, got roped into the probe, too.

As did Martin Nielsen, a manager at executive protection firm AS Solution, whose clients include Facebook’s top executives and other Silicon Valley A-listers.

The career bodyguard’s $45,000 donation to Campagna and Schumb’s Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance prompted DA Rosen to start examining quid-pro-quo deal-making after an inquiry from this news organization about executive protection specialist Nielsen brought the contribution to his attention shortly after Smith’s 2018 re-election.

A source familiar with the investigation told San Jose Inside last year that a $70,000 deposit was dropped into Nielsen’s checking account at the Santa Monica branch of Citibank shortly before he wrote the $45,000 check to the independent committee in support of Smith’s 2018 re-election.

If anyone else provided the money for the five-figure campaign gift, that would violate campaign finance law and constitute money laundering. Nielsen has not been charged.

Months later, in March of 2019, Smith signed off on a permit granting Nielsen the right to secretly pack heat. The sheriff granted the same privilege to at least a few other AS Solution colleagues that spring.

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 is an ongoing story and will be updated.

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.

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