Sheriff speaks out after former captain is arrested for running illegal gun ring

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SAN DIEGO -- After the FBI arrested a former San Diego County Sheriff's Department captain on suspicion of operating an illegal gun trafficking business, Sheriff Bill Gore released a statement on the situation.

"In the spring of 2017, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department learned an employee was possibly involved in misconduct," said Sheriff Bill Gore. "Upon confirming the information and determining the misconduct potentially involved criminal activity, the Sheriff's Department requested an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)."

Garmo, a nearly three-decade member of the department, was "engaged in the unlawful acquisition, transfer and sale of firearms during his entire tenure" as captain of the Rancho San Diego sheriff's station, federal agents claim.

A long-term investigation revealed that Garmo purchased and resold "off-roster" handguns, weapons that may be purchased by members of law enforcement but not the general public, investigators said.

Captain Marco Garmo plead not guilty to the charges in court.

Garmo's scheme was aimed not just at financial profit but also cultivating "future donors for his anticipated campaign for Sheriff of San Diego County," the FBI said.

Authorities said Garmo is suspected of running the gun sales operation with help from sheriff's Lt. Fred Magana, prominent San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel, firearms dealer Giovanni Tilotta and El Cajon resident Waiel Anton.

"The FBI and ATF conducted a thorough investigation and the United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of California, issued indictments on one current Sheriff's employee and one former employee," added Sheriff Gore. "I want to thank our federal law enforcement partners for their diligence on this case, and I have the utmost confidence in the criminal justice system."

Magana and Hamel pleaded guilty Friday, admitting "engineering and engaging in straw purchases of firearms, creating false records to conceal those purchases, and offering to promote Garmo’s weapons," the FBI said.

As part of a plea deal, the jeweler admitted purchasing a variety of the off-roster handguns from Garmo. Hamel also agreed to hand over more than 200 guns and 100,000 rounds of ammunition seized from him during the raid at his home.

Lt. Magana admitted purchasing a pair of the guns for Hamel at Garmo's direction, and to advertising the captain's services.

"Acts such as these are a violation of public trust and tarnish the reputation of law enforcement," said Sheriff Gore. "I am 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. The Sheriff's Department will not tolerate criminal behavior amongst its ranks and will hold its employees accountable for their actions."

Anton, who was also arrested Friday, is accused of helping Garmo's buyers apply for permits to carry a concealed weapon in exchange for cash as part of his "consulting business." The FBI said Anton helped an undercover agent get one of the permits for $1,000, then urged the agent not to speak with investigators.

Tilotta, who had not been tracked down by agents as of Friday afternoon, is accused of accepting and submitting falsified records for Garmo as a Federal Firearms Licensee.

"I am proud of the integrity and professionalism of our staff, and the exemplary leadership shown by those within the Sheriff's Department who brought this case to light," concluded Sheriff Gore. "I know we will continue to provide the highest quality public safety service to the County of San Diego."

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