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Former CEO of security firm charged with bribery in Santa Clara County gun permit case

Former CEO of security firm charged with bribery in Santa Clara County gun permit case

The former CEO of an executive security firm has been charged with participating in a scheme to procure coveted concealed-gun permits from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office in exchange for hefty political donations to support the 2018 re-election of Sheriff Laurie Smith.

Ex-AS Solution boss Christian West, also known as Christian Hansen, was charged Thursday and joins four defendants who were indicted by a criminal grand jury earlier this month in the same alleged bribery conspiracy: a sheriff’s captain, a prominent South Bay attorney and fundraiser for a political committee backing Smith, another attorney and a local gun maker.

Smith has not been specifically implicated by prosecutors or the grand jury, though she is the sole person authorized to grant concealed-carry weapons permits for her office.

A major figure mentioned in the indictment, who has not been charged, is Martin Nielsen, a security executive for the Seattle-based AS Solution who managed a team that provided contract security for Facebook executives including founder Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Prosecutors contend that Nielsen worked hand-in-hand with West to arrange the alleged pay-to-play deal, and campaign finance records show Nielsen wrote the $45,000 check that touched off a lengthy investigation by the Public Integrity Unit in the District Attorney’s Office, off an inquiry by the Metro newspaper in 2018 after Smith was elected to a sixth term.

Nielsen wrote the check to the Santa Clara County Public Safety Alliance, an independent expenditure committee for whom veteran litigator Christopher Schumb served as assistant treasurer. Schumb was indicted along with attorney Harpaul Nahal and Milpitas gun-parts maker Michael Nichols, who prosecutors say worked with sheriff’s Capt. James Jensen to get CCW permits to Nielsen and his security colleagues.

Attempts to seek comment from Schumb, Nahal and Nichols have not been successful. An attorney for Jensen said after the Aug. 6 indictment that his client was “devastated” by the indictment and contends that Jensen neither benefited from processing the permits nor had the power to grant them.

West also could not be immediately reached for comment. The criminal complaint filed against him lists a downtown San Jose high rise as his residence, but no local residential history turns up in public records under either of his names. Records do show past residences in the Seattle area, where AS Solution is based.

AS Solution declined to comment specifically on West, other than to confirm that he stopped being CEO sometime between when the investigation began and when he was charged.

“The AS Solution team provided its full support and cooperation to the District Attorney’s office in connection with its investigation,” said Executive Vice President Brian Jantzen, who took over stewardship of the company. “We plan to move forward, committed to the highest ethical standards as we continue to fulfill our responsibilities to our clients.”

The sheriff’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But a multitude of questions arose in the wake of the initial indictment, namely about how Smith could avoid legal consequences given that her discretion on issuing CCW permits has been a perennial source of criticism for her.

According to multiple sources in the sheriff’s office, many in the agency are questioning why Jensen was not placed on administrative leave sooner than the indictment, when he was known to be a subject of the DA investigation for over a year.

They also pointed to how subdued the formal response from Smith’s office was to Jensen’s indictment, a statement saying they will “continue to monitor the situation.” In past controversies, the sheriff’s office has not refrained from conditionally admonishing or condemning employees accused of breaking the law, including three jail deputies who were charged with murdering a mentally ill inmate, a bodybuilding deputy charged with workers’ compensation fraud, and other past instances of alleged deputy misconduct.

Smith, her second-in-command Undersheriff Rick Sung, several AS Solution employees and several permit recipients were called to testify before the grand jury. What they said, or didn’t say, could be revealed if the transcripts from the two-week proceedings in late July are unsealed.

The $45,000 donation by Nielsen, who had never made any political contributions to support Smith prior to the fall of 2018, dwarfed all other contributions to the alliance, and was allegedly half of a $90,000 donation agreed upon among the defendants to secure concealed-gun permits for “as many as 10 to 12” AS Solution employees.

Nielsen and at least three other AS Solution employees were issued permits in March. Prosecutors say their investigation prevented the payout of the second half of the $90,000 donation, which was allegedly supposed to go to the Sheriff’s Advisory Board.

When the indictment was announced, District Attorney Jeff Rosen said the investigation is ongoing and said more charges were expected, in response to questions about whether Smith would be charged, and why Nielsen and West had not been charged despite their alleged outsized roles in the case.

With West charged, it still remains unclear, at least officially, whether Nielsen will face criminal consequences. Sources familiar with the case, however, say Nielsen cooperated with investigators and gathered incriminating evidence against the people who were indicted.

According to the indictment, Nichols contacted Nahal in April 2018 to set up a meeting with Nielsen, who Nichols described as a “buddy,” to help Nielsen secure CCW permits. Nichols allegedly texted Nahal, “it’s a potential $50K.”

That led to a meeting between Nielsen, West, Nichols, Nahal and Schumb in May 2018, and led to Nielsen attending a “Best of the West” police skills competition hosted by the sheriff’s office. At that event, prosecutors say Nichols introduced Nielsen to Jensen, and they “agreed in principle” to exchange political donations for concealed-carry permits.

Over the next month, a group of executive protection agents were directed by AS Solution manager Jack Stromgren to list false employers and addresses, to fulfill legal requirements that county concealed-gun permits only be issued to county residents. That October, a month before Smith’s toughest re-election vote since she took office in 1998, prosecutors say Nielsen, at the direction of Jensen, went to Schumb’s downtown San Jose law office and handed him the $45,000 check, which was bankrolled by his employer.

Jensen has also been charged with falsifying firearms proficiency forms for seven permit recipients: Nielsen and six people unrelated to the alleged AS Solution conspiracy, including sitting county supervisor Mike Wasserman, whose office has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the matter.

The indictment did not detail the circumstances of those allegations, but prosecutors said the recipients’ permits were issued or renewed without the holders having to complete the proficiency requirements. Sources familiar with the case say it is unclear whether the permit holders expressly knew they were getting an illegal favor.

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