- Associated Press - Friday, November 22, 2019

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Federal agents Friday arrested a former San Diego sheriff’s captain accused of running a gun trafficking business and charged a deputy who had access to weapons restricted for law enforcement.

The arrest of former Capt. Marco Garmo, 52, at his home in the early morning was latest in a string of cases involving current and former law enforcement officers in Southern California accused of such illegal firearm sales.

Three others were also arrested and charged, including a prominent San Diego jeweler, who is accused of buying the weapons knowing they were illegally obtained.

Prosecutors say Garmo acquired 146 weapons and sold or transferred 104 of them. He was helped by Lt. Fred Magana, who purchased many of the “off roster” firearms, which aren’t available to the general public but can be legally sold to law enforcement officers, according to court documents.

Magana pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in San Diego to charges of aiding Garmo’s business by making straw purchases of firearms.

Neither Garmo nor the four others could not be reached for comment. He has told The San Diego Union-Tribune in the past that he is a gun collector, did not have a gun business nor know that he needed a federal firearms license to sell more than five guns a year.

A 17-year-veteran of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Garmo resigned from the sheriff’s department on Sept. 20 amid the investigation.

He had been on paid administrative leave since February after agents with the federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives executed search warrants at several places in San Diego County, including his home and a sheriff’s substation he supervised.

Magana remained on the payroll but was put on an administrative assignment amid the probe.

Federal agents as part of the investigation also searched the home and business of prominent San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel, a friend of Garmo. Hamel pleaded guilty Friday to aiding Garmo’s operation.

Prosecutors say Garmo would purchase off roster weapons on Hamel’s behalf. Hamel also admitted to making a false paper trail with Garmo and others to make it appear as if the sales were legitimate, according to his plea agreement.

Hamel has agreed to forfeit 200 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition seized from him in February, according to prosecutors.

Also arrested were Giovanni Tilotta, a federal firearms licensee and the owner of Honey Badger Firearms. He is accused of also submitting falsified firearms records, according to the indictment, and selling firearms inside Garmo’s substation when he was a sheriff’s captain.

Waiel Anton, a businessman also charged in the case, is accused of helping buyers apply for permits to carry a concealed weapon as part of his business.

The San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper first reported on the allegations against Garmo in March 2018.

He was disciplined by Sheriff Bill Gore in 2017 after the California Department of Justice determined Garmo had bought and sold at least 44 guns between 2014 and 2016 without a federal firearms license, which is required for anyone who sells more than five guns per year.

The state investigation did not extend beyond that period.


Dazio reported from Los Angeles.

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