Gun dealing sent San Diego County sheriff’s captain to prison. New evidence suggests corruption ran much deeper

Former sheriff's Capt. Marco Garmo leaves federal court on March 12, 2021, after being sentenced to two years in prison.
Former sheriff’s Capt. Marco Garmo leaves federal court on March 12, 2021, after being sentenced to two years in prison.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

On a November night in 2017, sheriff’s Capt. Marco Garmo, who oversaw a huge swath of East County and had aspirations to become the next elected sheriff, texted a close friend to warn him that an illegal cannabis dispensary would be raided the next day.

When deputies served a search warrant a few hours later at the Spring Valley business, they found “far less marijuana” than they were expecting, according to federal prosecutors.

It was not the first time, nor the last, that Garmo provided inside information about an impending dispensary raid to the other man, Waiel “Will” Yousif Anton, a political fundraiser with deep ties to the law enforcement community. Anton was receiving large monthly payments from the dispensary owner in exchange for such tips.


Garmo, who once ran the sheriff’s Rancho San Diego substation, is nearing the completion of his two-year federal prison term for unlawfully dealing firearms. But new court records from Anton’s case and arguments made during his sentencing Wednesday morning have shed new light on the extent of the powerful former captain’s corruption beyond his illegal gun dealing, which had previously been the focus of the case and the conduct at the heart of his public downfall.

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel said Wednesday that he would have sentenced Garmo to a lengthier prison term in March 2021 if at the time he had the more “granular view” of the case he has now.

“He was so corrupt,” Curiel said of Garmo during Anton’s sentencing.

Marco Garmo rose in the ranks of law enforcement until being brought down by corruption charges

March 12, 2021

Curiel acknowledged that he can’t re-sentence Garmo, who is set to be released from federal custody Jan. 1, according to prison records. But the judge said the investigation and prosecution of Garmo and his co-defendants — who included a sheriff’s lieutenant, a licensed gun dealer and prominent local jeweler Leo Hamel — likely saved the county from Garmo’s political aspirations and having “one of the most corrupt government officers ever leading the San Diego [County] Sheriff’s Department.”

According to prosecutors, Anton used his proximity to the well-connected Garmo — it’s unclear how the men met, but both are from Chaldean families that fled Iraq and settled in East County — to create “golden opportunities for corruption.” Prosecutors allege Garmo tipped off Anton before at least three dispensary raids, and also coordinated with him the raid of a rival dispensary.

Garmo also admitted in his own plea agreement to a separate, fifth incident in which he tipped off a dispensary co-owned by his cousin about an impending raid, according to court documents and a news release.

In a sentencing memorandum, assistant U.S. attorneys Nicholas Pilchak and Andrew Haden described how Garmo provided information to Anton, who then tipped off the dispensary owner. According to Anton’s attorney and details of the case discussed in court, the dispensary owner, Lance Kachi, was paying Anton between $5,000 and $8,500 per month for such information.


The deal between Anton and Kachi was formalized in January 2017 and first paid dividends in May of that year, when sheriff’s deputies investigating a nearby attempted murder raided Kachi’s dispensary on Troy Street in Spring Valley, prosecutors wrote. But thanks to Anton’s advance notice, the deputies found that the dispensary’s shelves had been cleared of their product before the search, and staff had deleted surveillance footage the night before the raid.

Deputies ended up finding the dispensary’s inventory at a nearby business where it had been hastily relocated, according to Pilchak and Haden.

Then came the November night a few months later when Garmo texted Anton to tip him off that one of his lieutenants would be “hitting” the same Troy Street dispensary the next day. Anton told Garmo that Kachi had just moved his operation to Olive Drive. “Good for [him]!” replied Garmo, according to portions of the conversation quoted by prosecutors. Deputies found “far less” product than expected when they searched the Olive Drive location the next day.

The same situation played out again in January 2018 at the same Olive Drive dispensary.

In May 2018, Garmo texted Anton to seek clarification about which of the multiple dispensaries on Grand Avenue was owned by Kachi and which was owned by a competitor. After confirming which one Kachi owned, Garmo texted Anton that he’d just emailed a lieutenant to “hit” the rival dispensary within the next few weeks “to scare the [expletive]” out of the rival.

Curiel said Wednesday that it was still unclear to him whether Garmo was receiving any kickbacks from Anton, though the prosecutors wrote in their sentencing document that Anton had “paid or promised a share of some of those fees back to Garmo.”

Anton, 38, was indicted along with Garmo and the three others — sheriff’s Lt. Fred Magana, gun store owner Giovanni Vincenzo Tilotta and Hamel — in late 2019. In March 2021, while still contesting the charges against him, Anton met with Kachi, the dispensary owner.


Anton showed Kachi a page of discovery evidence from the criminal case, saying Kachi’s name was “all over” the investigative documents, according to the prosecutors. He demanded $5,000 from Kachi in order to provide information to him, including details about what other defendants were telling law enforcement about Kachi. The dispensary owner paid Anton the $5,000.

Kachi and 10 others were indicted earlier this year in a series of cases targeting unlicensed dispensaries. He pleaded guilty to two conspiracy counts, including marijuana distribution and money laundering, as well as a firearms count for hiring armed guards to secure his illegal dispensaries. His attorneys did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

Eugene Iredale, Anton’s attorney, called his client’s March 2021 meeting with Kachi an “enormously self-destructive act that was stupid and wrong.” Anton apologized for his actions in a short statement to the judge.

Anton pleaded guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice, and Curiel sentenced him Wednesday to one year and one day in prison, plus ordered him to pay a fine of more than $56,000.

Anton is the second defendant sentenced to prison in the case. Curiel sentenced Garmo to two years after he pleaded guilty to a scheme in which he used his law enforcement privileges to sell guns that were typically not available to non-law-enforcement officers.

One of the main motivations behind the gun-selling scheme was to curry favor with prominent local individuals such as Hamel, whom Curiel sentenced to 100 days of house arrest and one year of probation for his role in aiding and abetting the scheme. Magana, the sheriff’s lieutenant, is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to his role in the unlicensed gun dealing. Tilotta was convicted after a trial and is also awaiting sentencing.


During Tilotta’s trial, evidence emerged that a sheriff’s detective and deputy had purchased AK-47-style rifles from Tilotta in Garmo’s Rancho San Diego office using backdated paperwork in order to skip a mandatory waiting period. In a statement Wednesday, Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Lt. Amber Baggs wrote that Det. Francisco Acero Jr. and Deputy Alan Campagna are currently assigned to administrative duties, as they were when the allegations surfaced in September.

Baggs wrote that the Sheriff’s Department “thoroughly investigates ... all allegations of violations of law by Sheriff’s personnel,” but said law enforcement privacy laws prevent the Department from commenting on the specifics of the investigation.