This story sounds like the synopsis of a Robert De Niro/Martin Scorsese movie.
A lousy De Niro/Scorsese movie.
First, take a bunch of guys with names like Marco Garmo, Fred Magana, Leo “The Ham” Hamel, Giovanni Tilotta and Waiel “Will” Anton.
Then add in a 23-count indictment, federal prosecutors, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
And then, like many movies, start with some flashbacks:
February 13, 2019:
The home of San Diego “jewelry giant” Leo Hamel:
The FBI and ATF searched Hamel’s home as part of an investigation into a suspected firearms trafficking case.
It’s around 7:30am.
Three hours later, at Hamel’s San Diego flagship jewelry store:
The FBI and ATF raided the store as part of the investigation.
Officials were seen going in and out of the business. An FBI spokesperson confirmed that agents were serving “multiple federal search warrants” for evidence on the gun trafficking case, but declined to release details about the home or potential suspects.
And there hasn’t been much in the news since then.
So let’s do another flashback. Who is Leo “The Ham” Hamel?
I should be honest and say that as far as I know, I’m the only one who calls him “The Ham.”
And the reason I call him “The Ham” is because he LOVES seeing himself on local TV. Hamel had been in business since 1979, and once he’d discovered the pleasure of seeing himself, on TV, in his own commercials, he – and we – saw a lot of him.
Most of the commercials featured Leo and his family, like this one from 2010:
There’s Hamel, his wife Penelope, and their kids who, while remaining nameless, always chimed in at the end with a hearty, “Come See Us!”
Over the years we saw the kids grow, as in this commercial from 2017:
The kids were changing, but their “Come See Us!” didn’t.
Hamel branched out in 2018, running this ad for his new “Leo Hamel Boutique & Consignment Shop” that October:
The shop, Hamel noted, was “conveniently located next to our jewelry store.”
The same jewelry store that the FBI and ATF would raid four months later.
The same kids at the end of Hamel’s Boutique & consignment Shop commercial:
And their same, “Come See Us!”
But wait – Hamel’s wife, Penelope, isn’t anywhere to be seen. Did she perhaps stop stumping for Hamel’s business because he filed for divorce in 2017?
Little did Hamel know back then that his troubles were just beginning.
Now our movie dissolves to the present – late November – and we catch up with the rest of the cast of characters, which now includes the U.S. Attorney.
And if you can keep track of this mess, you’re a better director than Scorsese:
Hamel is one of the “four others.”
In addition to Hamel, the indicted were Marco Garmo, 52, who served as a sheriff’s deputy for 27 years; sheriff’s department Lt. Fred Magana, 42; firearms dealer Giovanni Tilotta, 38; and local resident Waiel Anton, 35.
According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Garmo was charged with engaging in the business of dealing in firearms without a license, making false statements in acquisition of a firearm, obstruction of justice, aiding and abetting the possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, and other offenses.
Besides making a profit, Garmo sold guns to cultivate future donors for his anticipated campaign for sheriff of San Diego County.
(Insert: Marco Garmo TV commercial #1)
The “other four” were charged with aiding Garmo in operating an illegal gun trafficking business.
Cleary, Garmo was the ringleader here.
Hamel and Magana entered guilty pleas to aiding and abetting Garmo’s business and will be sentenced in February 2020.
Garmo and Anton pleaded not guilty and are expected back in court on January 10.
Tilotta remains at large, which means nobody knows where the hell he is.
Now I enter in, as the nameless voice-over narrator.
I’ve long been an admirer of – and grateful for – police officers. They put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe from the bad guys.
When two of the police are the bad guys – Garmo and Magana – it’s sickening.
It’s especially sickening when, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, in 2017 San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore – Garmo’s boss – formally reprimanded Garmo after an investigation found that he had bought and sold dozens of guns without securing a federal firearms license:
“Garmo said at the time that he was simply a gun hobbyist who was unaware that he needed a federal license to buy and sell so many weapons.”
At the time, Garmo had been a law enforcement officer for 25 years. Yet he was “unaware” of the law?
I’ll bet during those 25 years, Garmo busted other people who broke the very same law he said he was “unaware of.”
The Union-Tribune continues,
“Sheriff Gore defended his decision from 2017, saying the punishment fit the misconduct because Garmo did not appear to be selling the guns for profit and apparently had simply overlooked the law that requires people who buy or sell more than five guns a year to have a federal license.”
And “did not appear to be selling the guns for profit”?
What was Sheriff Gore suggesting? That Garmo was running a gun non-profit 501(c)(3)?
(Insert: Marco Garmo TV commercial #2)
“The sheriff’s case was referred to the District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal charges, but then-District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis declined to file charges and instead sent Garmo a letter warning him not to continue violating the law.”
If this had been you or me, buying and selling “dozens of guns without securing a federal firearms license,” do you think Bonnie Dumanis or any District Attorney would have contented herself with just sending us a letter?
End voice-over narrator.
Our movie winds down with this from Hamel’s attorney, after Hamel pleaded guilty:
“Mr. Hamel is pleased to have this matter behind him, and he is satisfied with the agreement he has made with the government. This will allow him to get back to his family and continue to the businesses he enjoys along with his numerous community service activities.”
Well, it will allow Hamel to “continue” until his sentencing in February.
And perhaps during that time Leo “The Ham” Hamel will treat us to a few more commercials, starring, of course, him.
And of course, his kids saying, “Come See Us!”
Only now they can say…
(Fade to black)