Former Sheriff’s Captain Indicted for Aiding Marijuana Distribution, Illegal Firearms Trafficking & Lying to Federal Agents

Former San Diego County Sheriff’s Captain Marco Garmo was arrested this past Friday, November 22, 2019. According to the indictment, Garmo was a Sheriff’s deputy for almost 27 years and, most recently, had served as the captain in charge of the Rancho San Diego Station. The indictment alleges that Garmo engaged in an illegal firearm trafficking business with the help of others, including a fellow Sheriff’s deputy. The indictment also brought charges against Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Fred Magana, prominent San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel, firearms dealer Giovanni Tilotta and El Cajon resident Waiel Yousif Anton.

Lt. Magana and Hamel have cooperated with law enforcement. They have both already entered guilty pleas before Judge Bernard G. Skomal, admitting that they aided Garmo’s business by engaging in straw purchases of firearms, creating false records, and offering to promote Garmo’s weapons. As part of his guilty plea, Leo Hamel, the owner of Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers, admitted to purchasing a variety of off roster handguns from Garmo. He also engineered a series of “straw purchases” in which Garmo would falsely certify that he was acquiring an “off roster” gun for himself when, in truth, he was purchasing it for Hamel. Lt. Magana and Hamel are scheduled to be sentenced on February 21, 2020, at 8:30 a.m.

The litany of charges also includes aiding and abetting the distribution of cannabis. As the Captain of Rancho San Diego station, Garmo was responsible for policing unlicensed marijuana dispensaries operating in and around Spring Valley. The indictment specifically mentions “Campo Greens” as an illegal operating dispensary. It alleges that Garmo provided an advance tip to the owners of Campo Greens-including, his cousin, when he was made aware of a search scheduled within 24 hours. After receiving the tip, staff at Campo Greens removed all of its cash and inventory to avoid seizure. 

According to the indictment, when Garmo was notified the following morning that the planned search had been canceled, he again contacted his cousin at Campo Greens, and the dispensary reopened later that same day. Weeks later, when Campo Greens delivered a cease-and-desist letter by San Diego County Code Compliance, Garmo again reached out to his acquaintance at the County. Asking about the scheduled enforcement action against Campo Greens, Garmo inquired, “Can we push it back?” His acquaintance replied, “Yes, you can.”

Garmo has been accused of lying to federal agents when interviewed about the tip-off, per the indictment, falsely claiming that he had never told a dispensary about an impending search warrant because he would never have put his deputies in harm’s way.

On May 20, 2018, San Diego Union Tribune reported San Diego County officials began issuing 10-day notices to operators of illegal marijuana dispensaries in Spring Valley. 

The charges laid out in the indictment could lead to a possible 84-year prison sentence for Garmo. 

“This office will not tolerate public servants who abuse their positions of trust for personal gain,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter J. Mazza. “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.”

Mazza praised the lead prosecutors on the case, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nicholas Pilchak and Andrew Haden, as well as the investigators from the ATF and FBI. Mazza added that the U.S. Attorney’s Office wishes to extend its sincerest gratitude to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for initiating this investigation and for their assistance and support during its course.