(KRON) — A Milpitas business owner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to solicit a bribe, the latest development in a bombshell case that led to former Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith’s resignation, prosecutors said Thursday.
Gun shop owner Michael Nichols, 48, of Milpitas, will serve one year in county jail for his role in a gun permit scheme allegedly orchestrated under Smith’s administration.
According to prosecutors, members of the sheriff’s office traded concealed carry weapon permits, also known as CCWs, in exchange for various donations, including some donations made to Smith’s re-election campaign.
Nichols was an “important middleman in the scheme,” prosecutors said.
Smith, the sheriff for more than two decades, resigned last year. Days after she stepped down, Smith was found guilty in a civil trial that relied on the evidence compiled by the District Attorney’s criminal probe.
The DA’s Office said its investigation has resulted in four convictions so far, as well as Smith’s resignation. The defendants remaining in the gun permit bribery cases are former Santa Clara County Undersheriff Rick Sung, former Captain James Jensen, attorney Harpaul Nahal, Apple’s head of global security Thomas Moyer, and local insurance broker Harpreet Chadha.
“Today’s conviction marks another milestone in this Office’s steady commitment to holding accountable all of the participants in this pay-for-play government corruption scheme,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “The community must be assured that government services — especially those involving public safety — are provided according to need, not bribes.”
CCW’s were granted to “VIP” donors, while non-VIP’s CCW applications were left pending indefinitely, investigators said.
Nichols introduced executives at AS Solution, Inc. — a company seeking gun permits — to local attorneys and Jensen. Nichols helped arrange meetings that led to the company agreeing to pay $90,000 in exchange for more than a dozen permits, the DA’s Office said. The first $45,000 went to a PAC that spent the money to support Smith’s successful re-election bid.
The conspirators were working on the second $45,000 payment when the DA’s investigation interrupted the scheme, according to prosecutors.
A civil grand jury indicted then-sheriff Smith in late 2021. In November of 2022, Smith was found guilty on six civil counts of corruption and willful misconduct. She is now banned from running for any public office.