Star witness testifies at California sheriff’s civil trial

Oct 11, 2022, 1:42 PM | Updated: 3:49 pm
FILE - Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith walks to a news conference in Cupertino, Calif., Wed...

FILE - Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith walks to a news conference in Cupertino, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. A former manager for a security company who implicated a Santa Clara County Sheriff's captain and others in an alleged bribery scheme to trade political donations supporting the sheriff in exchange for concealed-carry weapons has testified in the civil corruption trial against her. Smith has not been directly implicated in the two criminal indictments that ensnared her undersheriff and a captain. But if the jury finds just one count to be true, she would be removed from office early. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A former manager for a Silicon Valley security business that worked for Facebook testified at a sheriff’s civil corruption trial that he and his company’s CEO agreed to give political donations in exchange for concealed-weapons permits they needed to help guard high-profile clients.

Martin Nielsen, who implicated a Santa Clara County sheriff’s captain and others in the alleged bribery scheme, testified publicly for the first time Monday at Sheriff Laurie Smith’s trial.

He detailed how he was tasked with finding a way to get concealed-carry permits for AS Solutions security agents who were assigned to high-profile clients, the Mercury News reported. The effort followed a 2018 shooting at the YouTube campus in San Bruno in which a woman wounded three people before killing herself.

The now-defunct security company’s high-profile clients included Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Nielsen testified that he and AS Solution’s then-head Christian West agreed to financially support Smith’s 2018 reelection bid in exchange for the permits for security agents assigned to protect executives for the company then known as Facebook.

The unusual case against Smith is a civil process to seek removal of an elected official. Smith has not been directly implicated in the two criminal indictments that ensnared her undersheriff and a captain.

She announced in March she wasn’t running for reelection. Her term ends in January, but a guilty verdict would prompt her removal from office early.

Nielsen, testifying under a grant of immunity from criminal prosecution, said he and West arranged to donate a large sum to an independent expenditure committee backing Smith’s reelection.

“Did you come away with the understanding you would get 10 to 15 permits?” prosecutor Gabriel Markoff asked.

“Yes,” Nielsen replied.

Smith was her agency’s sole signatory for the gun licenses. Under questioning from Smith’s attorney, Allen Ruby, Nielsen affirmed that his only interaction with the sheriff was a 30-second meet-and-greet at a fundraiser during the period he was working with a sheriff’s captain to get the gun permits.

Nielson did not state the precise donation amount in his testimony because San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Nancy Fineman had limited what details Nielsen could give in front of the jury.

However, in past testimony, Nielsen said $90,000 was the agreed amount, though only $45,000 was ever donated. The other half was scuttled after the bribery and corruption probe got underway in 2019.

Nielsen also testified that he was unilaterally exempted by a sheriff’s captain from having to qualify under a legally required firearms proficiency test, and was instructed to obscure their association with the security company to avoid negative optics.

“They could not all be AS Solution,” he said. “Something about the fact it was a security company and it didn’t look good.”

Nielsen, West and a third AS Solution manager avoided indictment after cooperating with investigators in exchange for guilty pleas to lesser misdemeanor conspiracy and fraud-related charges. All three have a sentencing hearing scheduled for Tuesday.

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Star witness testifies at California sheriff’s civil trial