Former Sheriff’s Captain pleads guilty to gun trafficking

“This case involved stunning and sustained violations of the public trust by a high-ranking law enforcement officer who bent his public position to his private gain.”

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A former San Diego County Sheriff’s Captain pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally trafficking nearly 100 firearms from his office in the Rancho San Diego Station and committing other corrupt acts. In addition to lying to federal investigators, the former Sheriff’s Captain also admitted to tipping off his cousin who owns part of a marijuana dispensary before a raid.

Serving as a Sheriff’s deputy for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for almost 27 years, former San Diego County Sheriff’s Captain Marco Garmo admitted that he engaged in the business of dealing in firearms for profit without a license, which he knew was against the law. He acknowledged acquiring 144 firearms in less than six years, and selling or transferring 98 of them.

On October 28, 2016, Garmo and co-defendant Giovanni Tilotta, a licensed San Diego gun dealer and owner of Honey Badger Firearms, sold a Glock handgun, an AR-15 style rifle, and a Smith & Wesson handgun to a local defense attorney inside Garmo’s office at the Rancho San Diego Station. Serving as a Lieutenant under Garmo’s command, Fred Magana pleaded guilty last year to aiding and abetting Garmo’s firearms trafficking.

Because California law provided Garmo with a series of special firearms privileges, like the ability to purchase an unlimited number of handguns per month and the right to purchase newer-model “off-roster” handguns not approved for initial sale to civilians, Garmo admittedly bought these weapons and sold them to customers who could not legally purchase the guns while also avoiding the 10-day waiting period.

With information about an impending search warrant of his cousin’s dispensary, Campo Greens, Garmo tipped off his cousin before the raid. After receiving Garmo’s secret warning, the staff at the dispensary cleared out the facility of any cash and products before the search warrant could be executed.

On November 22, 2019, Garmo was arrested and charged with operating an illegal firearms trafficking business, aiding marijuana distribution, and lying to federal agents. On Tuesday, he pleaded guilty to illegally trafficking firearms while also admitting to other corrupt acts in order to lighten his plea agreement.

“This case involved stunning and sustained violations of the public trust by a high-ranking law enforcement officer who bent his public position to his private gain,” U.S. Attorney Linda Frakes said in a recent statement. “This office will not hesitate to hold accountable anyone who thinks that their badge or office is a license to break the law. All of the honorable men and women serving their communities in law enforcement deserve no less.”

“Rather than fulfill his sworn duty to uphold the law, former San Diego Sheriff’s Department Captain Marco Garmo used his position to benefit himself and those he sold weapons to in his unlawful firearms business,” stated FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner. “Garmo wore the badge, but ultimately, he failed his department and the public’s trust. Today’s plea demonstrates that no one is above the law – not even a high-ranking law enforcement official.”

Garmo is currently scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel on December 9.

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