What are a dozen permits to carry a concealed weapon (CCW) worth in Santa Clara County, California? According to charges recently leveled against a handful of defendants by that country’s district attorney: $90,000.
Those charges allege bribery and corruption that involved employees of a national security firm, AS Solution, with California offices and at least one member of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department—money for CCW’s was allegedly exchanged for hefty contributions to the sheriff’s re-election campaign.
As The Mercury News recently reported, Santa Clara County “Sheriff’s Capt. James Jensen, Christopher Schumb, Harpaul Nahal and Michael Nichols were indicted in the alleged pay-to-play plot, in which they are accused of brokering a deal for the executive security firm AS Solution to receive up to a dozen (CCW) permits in exchange for $90,000 in campaign donations to committees supporting [Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie] Smith’s 2018 re-election bid. Christian West, AS Solution’s CEO at the time of the alleged scheme, was charged separately on two felony conspiracy counts.”
At the August 31, 2020, arraignment of four of the defendants, West pleaded guilty. “Per a plea agreement, his charges will be downgraded to misdemeanors and a maximum 18-month jail sentence in exchange for his cooperation with the district attorney. The remaining four defendants, who were indicted on conspiracy and bribery charges, put off entering pleas until Sept. 21 .”
Grand jury testimony given in July 2020 claimed that CEO West and another employee met with Santa Clara County Sheriff Department personnel and “discussed offering donations and other payments with the hopes of getting bulk CCW applications approved.”
An initial campaign “donation” of $45,000 was made by an AS Solution employee, according to the charges. That payment caught the attention of the district attorney’s office, and an investigation was then launched.
For at least two years now, The Mercury News has been investigating the issue of who receives and does not receive CCW permits in Santa Clara County. As a November 2019 article noted, “The Santa Clara County sheriff’s system for granting concealed weapons permits is so inconsistent—and the record-keeping so fragmented—that it is difficult to discern any public-safety rationale behind a process the District Attorney’s Office is investigating over allegations of political favoritism. Sheriff Laurie Smith’s office, by its own admission, does not keep a tally of how many applications for concealed firearms are received each year, and it has refused to answer questions about what the criteria for approval might be, making it difficult to get an idea of how the applications are evaluated.”
Per California law, residents of a city can apply to their city police department for a CCW permit, while all others must submit their application to the sheriff’s department in their county of residence.
California, though, is a “may-issue” state, meaning the person who oversees the CCW permit process has the final say on the permit’s approval or denial. California, like most states, does have some specific guidelines for refusal of a permit, including the applicant being a convicted felon or having certain mental-health diagnoses.
But the state has no requirements that a permit must be issued if the applicant’s record would not prohibit the issuance of a permit, and the criteria for a successful application can vary widely from sheriff to sheriff or by police department.
Which may help explain why, as The Mercury News noted, Sheriff Smith only issued or renewed roughly 150 CCW permits from 2014 to 2019. By comparison, California’s Sacramento County has more than 5,000 active permits. In 2019, the U.S Census Bureau put Santa Clara County’s population at just shy of 2 million people, while Sacramento County was home to 1.55 million people.
Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen told MSN News that his office’s 18-month investigation had “uncovered a two-tiered policy for… CCW’s: a process for regular citizens whose applications were destined for a filing cabinet, and VIP’s whose applications were fast-tracked for approval.”
“My office’s concern is not whether the sheriff grants many or few CCW licenses, but whether they are being granted or denied for the wrong reasons,” Rosen said. “CCW licenses should not be given out in exchange for campaign donations. They should not be for sale.”
A1F.com will update this important (and disturbing) story as the case goes forward.