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San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel sentenced to house arrest in illegal gun-buying scheme

Longtime San Diego jeweler Leo Hamel, who for years has appeared in television commercials on local stations, was sentenced Friday morning to home confinement and probation for his role in an illegal gun-buying scheme operated by a former San Diego sheriff’s captain.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel sentenced Hamel, 65, to 100 days of house arrest and one year of probation for aiding and abetting former sheriff’s Capt. Marco Garmo’s unlicensed gun dealing.

“I take full responsibility for everything I did,” Hamel told Curiel during the hearing, adding that his actions were a “discredit to the family name.”

Hamel pleaded guilty to his role in the scheme in 2019, a day after he, Garmo and several others were indicted. As part of his plea and sentence, he forfeited more than 200 firearms and more than 100,000 rounds of ammunition.

Curiel said Friday that the case went far beyond just the illegal selling and purchasing of guns.

“Really, this case is also about corruption,” the judge said, explaining that at the heart of the scheme was Garmo’s “plan to someday become sheriff of the county of San Diego.”

Garmo needed wealthy benefactors who could support his ambitions, and Hamel was one of them, Curiel said. Garmo did favors for the local jeweler with the understanding Hamel would support his future campaign for sheriff.

Garmo has also pleaded guilty to federal charges and was sentenced last year to two years in federal prison.

Hamel avoided time behind bars by cooperating with the government’s investigation, according to prosecutors.

Hamel admitted in his plea agreement that Garmo purchased for him of “off-roster” guns — firearms that can only be bought new in California by law enforcement officers. The buys were known as straw purchases, with Garmo indicating the guns were for himself when they were actually for Hamel.

Garmo made straw-purchases of about 100 off-roster firearms in all for various people, and Hamel was his biggest client.

Curiel said there was “no doubt” that both Garmo and Hamel knew the captain’s gun dealing was illegal.

The judge noted the jeweler’s many good deeds and charitable donations spelled out in a sentencing memorandum, but said that along the way to gaining local prominence, Hamel “developed a sense of entitlement.”

The jeweler, who opened his first shop in 1980 and now has seven locations countywide, believed “the rules of the average person, the regular person, (didn’t) apply to you,” Curiel told him.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew Haden and Nicholas Pilchak told the judge that at the beginning of the case, they intended to seek prison time for Hamel.

But the jeweler cooperated with the investigation from the beginning and even testified during the trial of one of his co-defendants, a local firearms dealer, last month, so the prosecutors recommended a 60-day period of house arrest.

Curiel said 100 days was more appropriate because “an additional punitive penalty is warranted.” The terms of his house arrest allow him to leave his home for work, church, medical appointments and some other reasons, according to the judge.

Hamel ignored questions from reporters after the hearing outside the courthouse, and his attorneys declined to comment.

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