Leo Hamel watches family assemble a puzzle in scene from TV commercial.

Prominent San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel was sentenced Friday to one year of probation, plus 100 days of home confinement, for buying firearms illegally from former San Diego County Sheriff’s Captain Marco Garmo.

Hamel, 65, pleaded guilty to purchasing numerous “off-roster” firearms from Garmo, who was sentenced to a two-year prison term for his side business of buying and reselling those weapons for those who could not legally acquire them. Off-roster guns are only available to law enforcement and not approved for sale to the general public.

Prosecutors say Garmo was dealing those weapons both for profit and in order to create goodwill among potential donors — including Hamel —  for his planned campaign to run for San Diego County Sheriff.

Hamel’s home in Jamul was searched by federal authorities about ten months before charges were announced against him, Garmo and others.

More than 200 guns and 100,000 rounds of ammunition were seized from Hamel, which he forfeited as part of his plea agreement.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel said Hamel’s forfeiture of the weapons, in addition to his early guilty plea, were part of why he did not impose a custodial sentence.

One of Hamel’s defense attorneys, G. Cole Casey, said in court that Hamel was not acquiring those firearms for profit, but to add to a gun collection that he had hoped to pass on to his children someday.

At the sentencing hearing, Hamel told the judge, “I take responsibility for everything that I did” and added that he had brought “discredit to the family name.”

While Curiel noted Hamel had made charitable contributions to the community, the judge said Hamel knowingly aided Garmo in “corrupt acts” and acted with “a sense of entitlement that the rules and laws that apply to the average person don’t apply to you.”

Others indicted included Giovanni “Gio” Tilotta, owner of Honey Badger Firearms in Kearny Mesa. Prosecutors said Tilotta sold guns out of Garmo’s office at the sheriff’s Rancho San Diego substation and submitted falsified firearms records to help Garmo conduct “straw purchases,” in which the former captain claimed he was buying the guns for himself, but was actually purchasing them for Hamel and others.

Tilotta was convicted last month by a San Diego federal jury, which prosecutors said was believed to be the first federal criminal conviction of a civilian retail gun store owner in at least 15 years in the Southern District of California, which comprises San Diego and Imperial counties.

Former sheriff’s Lt. Fred Magana, who admitted to making straw purchases for Hamel, and El Cajon resident Waiel Anton, who helped people secure concealed carry permits quicker than usual through illegal means, also pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

–City News Service



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Ellen Bullock