Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Former San Diego Sheriff’s Captain Charged With Illegal Drugs, Firearms Trafficking

A former San Diego County Sheriff’s Department captain was indicted Friday on charges he allegedly ran an illegal firearms-trafficking business in part to cultivate future donors for his anticipated campaign for sheriff of San Diego County.

SAN DIEGO (CN) - A former San Diego County Sheriff’s Department captain was indicted Friday on charges he allegedly ran an illegal firearms trafficking business in part to cultivate future donors for his anticipated campaign for sheriff of San Diego County.

Marco Garmo, a former San Diego Sheriff’s captain of the Rancho San Diego Station and 27-year department veteran, was arrested Friday and arraigned on charges related to an illegal firearms trafficking operation he allegedly ran during his tenure as captain of the east San Diego County station for nearly three years.

He’s also accused of tipping off his cousin, who is the partner in an illegal marijuana dispensary called “Campo Greens,” based on information Garmo received of an impending warrant search, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.

Staff at the illegal dispensary apparently emptied its shelves and removed inventory and cash to avoid law enforcement seizure after Garmo tipped them off about the 24-hour warrant, according to the indictment.

Also charged Friday were Sheriff’s Lt. Fred Magana and prominent San Diego fine jeweler Leo Hamel.

Magana and Hamel pleaded guilty Friday to aiding Garmo’s gun trafficking business by engaging in straw purchases of firearms, creating false records to conceal the purchases and offering to promote the weapons. Garmo allegedly helped Hamel illegally obtain some of his 200 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition.

Firearms dealer Giovanni Tilotta and El Cajon resident Waiel Anton were also charged with aiding and abetting Garmo.

Most of the alleged 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.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office reprimanded Garmo in February 2017 for excessive handgun sales, according to the indictment.

Garmo had also received an explicit warning from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives cautioning him that excessive resale for profit of guns obtained “off roster” could violate federal law.

He acquired roughly 146 firearms between March 2013 and February 2019, per California’s firearms record database, and sold or otherwise transferred 104 of them to others, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Some of the firearms include high-capacity magazines Garmo’s clients were not permitted to possess under California law. The indictment also states Garmo allegedly supplied his purchasers with San Diego County Sheriff’s Department – issued ammunition he was not authorized to distribute.

Hamel acquired a variety of firearms from Garmo, who would falsely certify he was acquiring the “off roster” guns for himself then would sell them to the jeweler, according to the indictment.

As a Federal Firearms Licensee and owner of Honey Badger Firearms, Tilotta facilitated Garmo’s straw firearms purchases by accepting and submitting falsified firearms records. He’s also accused of selling and transferring firearms inside Garmo’s office at the Rancho San Diego Station, according to the indictment.

According to his guilty plea, Magana purchased a pair of “off roster” firearms for Hamel at Garmo’s direction. He also admitted to advertising Garmo’s firearms to potential customers.

Anton, who ran a “consulting business,” helped Garmo’s firearms buyers apply for permits to carry concealed weapons, receiving cash payments from the clients while paying kickbacks to Garmo for referrals.

According to the indictment, Anton helped his clients secure early appointments for their permits by making an unlawful cash payment to a CCW processing staff member.

Magana and Hamel are scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 21.

Twenty-nine guns allegedly acquired by Garmo are missing. Anyone who knows the whereabouts of the firearms are asked to call the ATF at (858) 966-1010.

Also Friday, a former marijuana distribution warehouse employee was found guilty of conspiring with a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy of staging an armed robbery to steal $2 million worth of marijuana and cash from his former employer.

The robbery was staged to look like a legitimate law enforcement operation, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

Christopher Myung Kim, a “bitterly disgruntled” former employee, was found guilty of his role in staging the robbery by conspiring with LASD Deputy Marc Antrim Oct. 29, 2018.

He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 12 years in prison and up to life in prison.

Follow @@BiancaDBruno
Categories / Criminal, Government, Law

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.