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Well-known San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel sentenced in gun trafficking case

Posted at 11:19 AM, Oct 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-28 20:17:50-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – Prominent San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel, known to appear in TV commercials with his family to promote Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers & Jewelry Buyers, was sentenced Friday for his role in a gun trafficking operation.

At his sentencing hearing on Friday, the 65-year-old Hamel told the judge and others in the courtroom that he takes full responsibility for his actions. He added that he “let his family and friends down,” and said the situation was “a discredit to the family name” and vowed it would never happen again.

Hamel’s attorney and federal prosecutors initially agreed upon a sentence of one year probation and 60 days of house arrest.

However, Southern District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel confirmed the one year of probation during the Friday hearing but increased the home detention from 60 to 100 days.

While Curiel noted Hamel had made charitable contributions to the community, the judge said Hamel knowingly aided 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."

In February 2019, federal agents conducted raids at Hamel’s home and his businesses as part of a firearms trafficking investigation. More than 200 guns and 100,000 rounds of ammunition were seized from Hamel, which he forfeited as part of a plea agreement.

Hamel pleaded guilty in November 2019 to purchasing numerous "off-roster" firearms from former San Diego County sheriff's Captain Marco 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.

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 contributed to this report