How was San Jose police union unaware of alleged drug smuggling?
Joanne Segovia, center left, walks away from the federal courthouse in San Jose on March 31, 2023 with her attorney, Will Edelman. Segovia, an office manager for the San Jose police union, has been charged by federal authorities with attempting to illegally import a form of the opioid fentanyl. Photo by Joseph Geha.

    The shocking drug smuggling allegations against a longtime San Jose police union office manager are prompting critics to voice concerns about the union’s integrity and its internal oversight process.

    Joanne Segovia, executive director of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association (SJPOA), was charged by federal prosecutors last week with attempting to illegally import fentanyl. Segovia, who is not a police officer, has worked for the union that represents San Jose Police Department officers since 2003. Now, some police critics said they find it hard to believe police officers didn’t know about Segovia’s alleged behavior.

    “The (police union) leadership and that institution is either remarkably inept, or there are people beyond this singular individual that is part of that criminal syndicate,” Raj Jayadev, founder of the community organizing group Silicon Valley De-Bug, told San José Spotlight.

    Union officials have repeatedly said Segovia’s actions were isolated, and that no one else at the union was aware or involved. Spokesperson Tom Saggau noted that at this time federal investigators have only searched the office and home of Segovia, not any other union employees or members. He shot back at Jayadev’s comments, calling them “silly.”

    “There’s not one scintilla of anything that’s been introduced out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in all of the documents, that mentions anybody (else),” Saggau told San José Spotlight. “Where is anything to support what (Jayadev) is saying other than, ‘I don’t like cops and this is a free kick for me.’”

    Segovia, 64, is accused of helping coordinate the shipping and receiving of thousands of illicit opioids over several years as part of an apparent international drug smuggling ring funneling products into the Bay Area.

    Jayadev, a vocal police critic who launched De-Bug more than 20 years ago, said he’s never before witnessed allegations such as those against Segovia, who he described as a central figure in a police organization.

    “This is the wildest thing I’ve seen,” Jayadev said. “If this was a Netflix episode that was pitched, I don’t know if people would even buy it. And it’s in our city.”

    In hundreds of WhatsApp messages to a recipient with an India country code, Segovia is alleged to have sent “pictures of tablets, shipping labels, packaging, payment receipts and payment confirmations,” authorities said.

    Investigators said Segovia used both her home and police union computers, as well as her work email address, to help run her operations.

    “What culture is the (police union) rooted in that would allow that measure of arrogance?” Jayadev said. “That woman felt she had a license to do it. There had to be some culture that invited her the confidence to feel like she could do this, and that is a reflection of SJPOA.”

    San Jose Police Chief Anthony Mata declined an interview request through a spokesperson, but provided a written statement.

    “This news is disheartening and comes as a shock to me and the leaders and membership of the SJPOA,” he said.

    LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge and San Jose’s former independent police auditor, said the union’s response to the case could ultimately hurt a yearslong effort to solidify public trust with police in the city.

    “We have yet to hear an explanation about how this could possibly happen for the number of years it is alleged to have occurred,” Cordell told San José Spotlight. “How could someone get away with such a criminal enterprise for so many years and nobody noticed?”

    Saggau has previously said there isn’t any “internal control” he can think of that could have uncovered Segovia’s actions.

    “How would anybody at the SJPOA have known about this?” he said.

    Saggau stood his ground against critics, instead pushing back by posing the same scenario for Cordell—if anyone in her office during her time as a police auditor were to have engaged in anything nefarious, would it have been assumed that she should have readily known?

    Cordell said no one in the independent police auditor’s office has ever been accused of or charged with a similar crime, and that her office had frequent audits and strict oversight from the city. She said Saggau’s attempt to cast aspersions on her former office, and his view that there wasn’t any way to know about Segovia, are both troubling.

    “If he is throwing up his hands and saying, ‘There is nothing we could have done,’ what is there to stop the next person who comes into the position of executive director, or anybody else on staff, from doing the exact same thing?” Cordell said.

    She said Segovia betrayed the trust of the union, likely using her position as a cover from any suspicion. Nonetheless, she said the organization will need to be transparent and honest in the aftermath of this case.

    “If they want to build trust they need to say, ‘We dropped the ball, and here are the things we can do better going forward to make sure this doesn’t happen again,’” Cordell said.

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

    Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

    Leave a Reply