By Brecken Branstrator
San Diego—The owner of a well-known San Diego jewelry store has pleaded guilty for his role in a firearm trafficking ring, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, 62-year-old Leo Hamel, of Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers, entered a guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard G. Skomal on Friday.

In the plea, he admitted to aiding a firearms trafficking ring run by former San Diego County Sheriff’s Captain Marco Garmo by engaging in “straw purchases”—when one person buys something on behalf of someone else who is legally unable to make the purchase themselves—of firearms, creating fake records to conceal the purchases and offering to promote Garmo’s weapons.

According to a federal grand jury indictment, Garmo was a sheriff’s deputy for more than two decades.

The indictment alleges he engaged in the unlawful purchase, transfer and sale of firearms during his tenure as captain of the Rancho San Diego Station.

Most of his firearms transactions involved the purchase and resale of “off roster” handguns, which can be purchased by law enforcement but not the general public.

Though law enforcement isn’t expressly prohibited from selling off-roster handguns, the DOJ said Garmo received a warning from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that “excessive resales for profit” could violate federal law.

Garmo acquired roughly 146 firearms between March 2013 and February 2019, California’s firearms record database shows, and he sold or transferred 104 of them to others.

As part of his guilty plea, Hamel admitted to purchasing several off-roster handguns from Garmo—with the “straw purchases,” Garmo would falsely certify he was acquiring an off-roster gun for himself when he really was purchasing them for Hamel.

Hamel also admitted he acquired several firearms from Garmo without proper documentation through fake long-term firearm “loans” in exchange for money and created a fake paper trail to make it appear the sales were legitimate.

As part of his guilty plea, Hamel agreed to forfeit more than 200 firearms and 100,000 rounds of ammunition seized from him in February during the FBI’s raid on his store.

Hamel started his business in 1980.

In addition to the retail store in San Diego, Leo Hamel Fine Jewelers—still open as of press time—also has buying offices in San Diego, La Mesa, Oceanside, Rancho Bernardo and Solana Beach, California.

The DOJ said he is scheduled for sentencing on Feb. 21.

In the meantime, he is out on $250,000 bond secured by a lien on a piece of property.

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.