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Prominent Jeweler Pleads Guilty in Gun Trafficking Case

He agreed to forfeit over 200 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition seized from him on Feb. 13.

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A prominent San Diego jeweler has pleaded guilty in connection with an illegal firearms business.

Leo Hamel of Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers admitted to aiding and abetting the illegal gun trafficking business of former San Diego County Sheriff’s Capt. Marco Garmo. Garmo was arrested last week based on a federal grand jury indictment. It’s alleged that the firearms trafficking sometimes happened at his office at the Rancho San Diego Station with the help of others, including a fellow sheriff’s deputy.

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In addition to Hamel, the indictment charges Sheriff’s Department Lt. Fred Magana, firearms dealer Giovanni Tilotta and El Cajon resident Waiel Anton with aiding and abetting the business. Like Hamel, Magana entered a guilty plea in federal court on Nov. 22, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.

Hamel was granted a $250,000 bond secured by a lien on a piece of property. Magana was granted a $25,000 bond. They are scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 21. Anton has been arrested, and Tilotta is currently at large.

The indictment describes Garmo’s business of firearms dealing as undertaken for both financial profit and to cultivate future donors for his anticipated campaign for sheriff of San Diego County. Authorities say most of Garmo’s firearms transactions involved the purchase and resale of “off roster” handguns, which designates guns that may be purchased by members of law enforcement but not members of the general public. While law enforcement officers are not prohibited from reselling “off roster” handguns in certain circumstances, Garmo received an explicit warning from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that excessive resales for profit could violate federal law.

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Garmo acquired roughly 146 firearms between March 2013 and February 2019, per California’s firearms record database, and he sold or otherwise transferred 104 of them to others, according to the release.

As part of his guilty plea, Hamel admitted to purchasing a variety of off roster handguns from Garmo, and engineered a series of “straw purchases” in which Garmo would falsely certify that he was acquiring an “off roster” gun for himself when in truth he was purchasing it for Hamel.

Hamel further admitted that he acquired several firearms from Garmo without proper documentation through bogus, long-term firearm “loans” in exchange for money — transactions that authorities say were sales in all but name. Hamel agreed in his plea to conducting straw purchases with Garmo and Magana, and to planning with Garmo and Tilotta to construct a false paper trail to make it appear that the straw purchases were legitimate. As part of his guilty plea, Hamel has also agreed to forfeit over 200 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition seized from him on Feb. 13.

As part of the investigation, the FBI raided Hamel’s store and his $1.6 million home in February, according to NBC San Diego.

Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers was featured in the July 2009 issue of INSTORE as part of our America’s Coolest Stores program.

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Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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