The veteran officers and their families all called her “the Grandma of the POA.” She comforted the families of fallen officers, organized fundraisers for officers’ kids.
As executive director of the powerful San Jose Police Officers’ Association—the labor union for sworn law enforcement personnel in the nation’s 10th largest city—she ran the small office just up 4th Street from the Smoking Pig BBQ, keeping the books, managing snail mail and email, fielding calls and requests for nearly two decades.
Then early this year, Homeland Security knocked on the door. And the world of Joanne Marian Segovia went into a tailspin.
The 64-year-old union official—who is a civilian, not a police officer—last week was arraigned on a federal felony charge of attempted unlawful importing of a deadly opioid, valeryl fentanyl, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The union’s elected board gave her a leave of absence—innocent until proven guilty, after all. But the union, fearful of appearances and concern about any possibility of union involvement, also was quick to distance itself from the case:
“Last Friday [March 24] we were informed by federal authorities that one of our civilian employees was under investigation for distribution of a controlled substance and the POA has been fully and completely cooperating with the federal authorities as they continue their investigation,” union spokesman Tom Saggau wrote in an email response to a Metro inquiry. “The POA immediately placed the civilian employee on leave and as is standard procedure cut off all access to the POA. No additional individual at the POA is involved or had prior knowledge of the alleged acts. The board of directors is saddened and disappointed at hearing this news and we have pledged to provide our full support to the investigative authorities.”
On March 27, the day the complaint against Segovia was filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, the union switched banks, from Morgan Stanley/Smith Barney to California Bank & Trust, for a political action committee it sponsored to collect and spend nearly $1 million on the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of its favorite pro-union local politician, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.
Segovia, according to federal prosecutors, used her office computers and on at least one occasion the union’s UPS account to buy and distribute thousands of dollars of illegal opioids.
Her actions got caught up in an international investigation by Homeland Security of sales of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids like tramadol and tapentadol from various cities in the Far East and Eastern Europe. Investigators said that between October 2015 and January 2023, Segovia had at least 61 shipments mailed to her home that originated from Hong Kong, India, Singapore and Hungary, in boxes variously labeled as a clock, makeup, chocolates and wedding party favors.
She let Homeland Security look at her WhatsApp account, which was encrypted. There they found a treasure trove of logistics, hundreds of messages for receiving and sending shipments of pills, some more recently using a phone with an India country code, and including hundreds of pictures of tablets, shipping labels, packaging, payment receipts and payment confirmations.
She tried to pass off the drug buys—which she called supplements—and then tried to blame the operation on a woman she identified as a housekeeper and family friend, who she said had impersonated her on WhatsApp. Then she refused to give the feds access to her CashApp account.
They didn’t buy it.
Fentanyl is described by the Drug Enforcement Administration as “a potent synthetic opioid drug approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin.” Federal health officials said more than three-fourths of the 100,000 drug overdose deaths each year in the U.S. are attributable to fentanyl.
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan was outraged. “This is an incredibly disturbing allegation,” he said in a statement to media. “No one is above the law, regardless of who their employer is. I want to thank U.S. Attorney Ramsey and his colleagues for aggressively pursuing the sources of fentanyl coming into our communities and holding drug dealers accountable.”
The story made headlines across the country: CNN, NBC, AP. The union is picking up the embarrassing pieces of this puzzling case.