SAN DIEGO – A local gun dealer was convicted Thursday of illegally trafficking firearms and conducting straw purchases, prosecutors said.
Giovanni “Gio” Tilotta, 41, was found guilty of conspiring with former San Diego County Sheriff’s Captain Marco Garmo, San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel and others to make false statements in the acquisition of firearms, Kelly Thornton with the Office of the United States Attorney Southern District of California stated in a press release Friday.
“According to evidence presented at trial, Garmo and another Sheriff’s deputy falsely claimed to be the actual purchasers of new handguns, while really intending to transfer the weapons to other individuals who were the true buyers—notably including Hamel. Tilotta was also found guilty of aiding and abetting Garmo’s unlicensed firearms trafficking enterprise, in which Garmo bought and resold dozens of firearms both for profit and to bank favors for Garmo’s anticipated campaign for Sheriff of San Diego County,” Thornton said.
The crimes were committed through Tilotta’s licensed firearms dealer Honey Badger Firearms in Kearny Mesa, per prosecutors. Tilotta received an explicit warning from the California Department of Justice in December 2014 to avoid allowing straw purchases at his business, but emails revealed that he directed Hamel and Garmo to create sham emails to cover up the straw purchases they conducted at the gun establishment.
According to attorney officials, Tilotta’s conviction is believed to be the first federal criminal conviction of a civilian retail gun store owner in the Southern District of California in at least 15 years.
Tilotta’s sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 5.