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Former San Diego County sheriff’s deputy, four others charged with illegal gun trafficking

Marco Garmo is also accused of tipping off a cousin, a partner in an illegal marijuana dispensary, to impending searches by the sheriff's department, according to a federal indictment.

Five men, including a former San Diego County Sheriff’s Department captain, were indicted on charges related to illegal gun trafficking and drug trafficking, the US Attorney’s Office for Southern California said Friday.

Marco Garmo, 52, served as a sheriff’s deputy 27 years and was the captain in charge of the Rancho San Diego Station, according to a news release from the US Attorney’s Office.

He was charged with engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license, making false statements in acquisition of a firearm, obstruction of justice, aiding and abetting the possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and other offenses.

Besides making a profit, Garmo sold guns to cultivate future donors for his anticipated campaign for sheriff of San Diego County, the news release said.

“This office will not tolerate public servants who abuse their positions of trust for personal gain,” Assistant US Attorney Peter Mazza said in the news release. “Law enforcement members who step outside of the law are subject to the same standards as everyone else in our community. No one deserves the fair application of the law more than all of the law-abiding men and women who wear the badge honorably to protect our communities.”

The 23-count indictment unsealed Friday alleges sheriff’s department Lt. Fred Magana, 42; San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel, 62; firearms dealer Giovanni Tilotta, 38; and El Cajon resident Waiel Anton, 35, aided Garmo in operating an illegal gun trafficking business.

Hamel and Magana entered guilty pleas Friday to aiding and abetting Garmo’s business and will be sentenced in February 2020. Garmo and Anton were arrested Friday morning scheduled to be arraigned in federal court Friday afternoon. Tilotta has not been arrested yet, Mazza said.

Hamel’s lawyer, Michael Pancer, issued this statement: “Mr. Hamel is pleased to have this matter behind him and he is satisfied with the agreement he has made with the government. This will allow him to get back to his family and continue to the businesses he enjoys along with his numerous community service activities.”

Jeremy Warren, the attorney representing Tilotta, told CNN: “Mr. Tilotta is a small business owner with a spotless record. He was out of town visiting his family when he learned of the charges. He will return to San Diego immediately to address the matter in court.”

CNN sought comment from the other three men but has not heard back. Garmo was put on paid administrative leave after federal agents searched his home earlier this year and he has since resigned from the department, CNN affiliate KUSI reported.

Between March 2013 and February 2019, Garmo acquired about 146 guns and sold or transferred 104 of them, the US Attorney’s Office said. Many of those transactions involved “off-roster” handguns, which under California law could only be sold to law enforcement officers, not members of the general public, Mazza said.

Garmo would engineer “straw” purchases of firearms by certifying he was purchasing them for himself, but in reality, he bought the guns for someone else not in law enforcement, the indictment says.

The other four defendants helped Garmo by participating in the straw purchases, backdating paperwork to avoid the 10-day waiting requirement and helping Garmo’s customers obtain expedited weapons permits through illicit cash payments.

Tilotta, the owner of Honey Badger Firearms, repeatedly facilitated Garmo’s straw purchase of firearms by accepting and submitting falsified firearms records, according to the indictment. According to the indictment, Tilotta sold and transferred firearms inside Garmo’s office at the Rancho San Diego Station, in violation of state and federal law.

Garmo is facing drug trafficking charges for allegedly tipping off a cousin, a partner in an illegal marijuana dispensary, to impending searches by the sheriff’s department, the indictment says.

San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore issued a statement, saying he was “disappointed by the actions of these two individuals, as they do not reflect the values of this department and its thousands of trustworthy, hard-working employees.”

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