Jury transcripts in the Santa Clara Co. sheriff’s bribery case

SAN JOSE — Longtime Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, whose conduct is the subject of an upcoming corruption trial, knows the rules. And the evidence gathered for this lawsuit suggests that she knows how to use them to her advantage.

In 5,600 pages of newly released grand jury testimony, Smith emerges for the first time as a central player in his office’s efforts to dodge gift reporting requirements, direct concealed-carry permits to powerful donors and undermine the work of a civilian auditor. examining an explosive injury case in prison.

Each of these scandals has become public knowledge over the past two years, resulting in the indictment of some of his closest aides, but Smith’s involvement has remained unclear.

Today, the testimony of 65 witnesses called before the civil grand jury puts her facing the end of a long career. The state attorney general has also launched an investigation into Smith’s office.

A former principal’s assistant, for example, recalled Smith asking her to buy three cheap tickets to a Sharks hockey game, to hide the fact that she would be seated in the luxury suite for free. a donor.

“So it was to avoid disclosing a gift?” asked the prosecutor.

“Correct,” said the former assistant.

Other testimony made clear Smith’s key role in her office granting an inordinate number of firearms licenses to famous, powerful and connected people, and showed that she had personally and deliberately delayed progress on an investigation into Andrew Hogan’s jailhouse injury case that led to a county-record $10 million settlement.

Hidden guns and hidden truth

Civilian grand jurors found in December that Smith had committed “wilful and corrupt misconduct” by his actions regarding concealed carry weapons licensing, or CCW.

Their findings – officially called “charges” which now lead to a full trial – are largely based on a recall of two previous grand jury criminal proceedings related to the CCW licensing scandal that resulted in bribery indictments for the deputy. Sheriff Rick Sung and Captain. James Jensen, Smith’s second-in-command and a close adviser, respectively. But the civil procedure was more heavily focused on Smith.

Jon Golinger, an investigator with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office — which oversaw the civil grand jury due to disputes cited by Santa Clara County Attorney and District Attorney’s Offices — said an analysis records showed that between late 2015 and early 2019, only 36 of 248 new CCW applicants were granted licenses, an approval rate of 14.5%. But of the ten donors who applied, nine were approved, a 90% success rate.

Lara McCabe, a program manager at the sheriff’s office, testified that Smith said she opposed large-scale CCW licensing because “she doesn’t like having a lot of guns in the streets”. Smith’s attorney and longtime policy adviser, Rich Robinson, said Smith “would not issue CCW permits unless there was a demonstrated need.”

But his actions belied those claims, witnesses said.

Several license applicants who were not donors described to the grand jury how they applied for CCW licenses due to documented harassment, death threats or physical abuse. Three haven’t even received a response, although state law requires notice of approval or denial within 90 days. The fourth received a form letter indicating a backlog of applications.

Meanwhile, a known campaign donor testified that he was passively guided by the sheriff’s office to provide his daughter’s address for her license renewal because he had left the county. Another longtime Smith donor, NVIDIA founder Chris Malachowsky, testified that he had no reason to apply for security and left the “cause” field blank in the application, but still got a licence.

In contrast, and as was suggested in earlier criminal grand jury testimony, any permit application that did not have the green light of a combination of Smith, Sung, or Jensen was left in a filing cabinet.

But former public information officer Rich Glennon offered new insight into Smith’s alleged role in the practice when he testified that Smith told him “the law was on his side in that if the demands were still pending, she never had to make a decision on the application, “so if a criminal background check and a fingerprint check were “never done, it’s in the code.”

“So that was her explanation to you personally as to why she could just keep applications pending indefinitely?” asked the prosecutor.

“That’s right,” Glennon said.

Despite this evidence, the civil grand jury dismissed bribery charges against Smith, suggesting it could not directly link her to what prosecutors in the criminal case alleged was a partially orchestrated fee-based brokerage scheme. by Sung and Jensen.

How Smith could explain all of this remains unknown. She was not called before the civil grand jury, and in one of the criminal grand jury proceedings, she invoked the Fifth Amendment by refusing to testify. Publicly, she called the oversight board’s efforts to investigate her office a politically motivated attack.

The situation of the Sharks suite

Three other civil grand jury bribery charges involve Smith’s use of a CCW licensee’s luxury suite at the SAP Center for a San Jose Sharks game. Knowing she would use the sequel, Smith allegedly asked McCabe to buy three general admission tickets for her, Sung and Jensen to circumvent reporting requirements for elected officials who receive gifts worth over $500. $.

McCabe said Smith told her explicitly that she was seeking to avoid putting the sequel tickets on a public donation statement document.

The suite – where Smith on February 14, 2019, hosted a gathering of close friends and supporters to celebrate his re-election in 2018 – is also the subject of a corruption indictment against the owner of the suite, Harpreet Chadha, alleging that Sung extracted the donation. him by delaying the renewal of his firearms licence. Chadha said he distributes the sequel regularly.

The civil grand jury rejected allegations that Chadha committed bribes.

Resist an inquiry

The final finding of misconduct by the civil grand jury accuses Smith of “failing to cooperate” with the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring – a civilian auditor – in its investigation of the Andrew Hogan case. No previous grand jury has considered this allegation, although the Board of Supervisors has condemned his actions.

The county paid a $10 million settlement to Hogan and his family after the mentally ill suffered multiple injuries in 2018 while riding around unrestrained in a prison transport van, and staff and Prison commanders stood aside as he fell unconscious. Hogan is now severely disabled. The settlement was the largest payment ever made by the county to resolve a jailhouse injury case.

Last fall, the board of oversight appointed auditor Michael Gennaco to investigate why an internal sheriff’s office investigation abruptly ended with no findings or disciplinary action issued. But Smith’s office reportedly refused to turn over any documents on the case to Gennaco.

In testimony before the civil grand jury, McCabe and Juan Gallardo, a former director of administrative services who was the sheriff’s office’s most senior civilian employee, said Smith ordered his staff to delay key meetings with two main unions of the agency to thwart an information. – sharing agreement with Gennaco.

“I believe she – something to the effect of, if – if the meeting doesn’t happen, we can’t proceed with the information-sharing agreement or at least slow down the process,” Gallardo said. .

Anecdotes and statements from other witnesses show additional instances in which Smith appeared to knowingly flout the rules.

Gallardo testified that during his 2018 re-election campaign, Smith was in touch with an independent spending committee headed by two of his ardent supporters — even though under federal law, Smith and his campaign were prohibited from “cooperation, consultation or concert with » the Committee.

“I remember her saying she wasn’t supposed to know ‘the inner workings of the independent committee,’ Gallardo testified, ‘but she knew what they were doing.”

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