Anthony Gambino, 43, has been charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and violating the Stolen Valor Act

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FARMINGTON — A 43-year-old local man was arrested last week on allegations he told an undercover agent that he was a former Marine and Purple Heart recipient who could provide combat training to a fictitious Middle Eastern company created as part of a federal sting operation.

The federal government alleges that Anthony Lee Gambino, formerly known as Anthony Lee Martinez, is a convicted felon who was drummed out of the U.S. Marine Corp. when military officials discovered he enlisted using his brother's name, according to a criminal complaint.

Gambino was charged May 12 in federal court with being a felon in possession of a firearm and violation of the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, which makes it illegal to claim receipt of military medals or decorations to obtain tangible benefits.

Gambino first came to the attention of law enforcement when he approached the sheriff's office in late 2015 about shooting a training video of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office SWAT team, the complaint states.

Gambino is the director of Gambino Security Safety Corp., a New Mexico private security firm based in Aztec, according to state records.

The sheriff's office agreed to participate, and the video was uploaded to YouTube in December 2015, according to the complaint.

Sheriff's office Capt. Brice Current said it was after the video was uploaded that his office received a citizen tip about Gambino's checkered past.

"The undersheriff did some digging and discovered that (Anthony Gambino) was not his real name, and he was a felon," Current said.

Gambino had previously been convicted in 1993 in San Juan County of commercial burglary and failure to appear on a felony, both felony offenses, according to the complaint. In 1997, he was convicted in La Plata County, Colo., of menacing involving a deadly weapon, the complaint states.

As a convicted felon, Gambino was barred by state and federal law from possessing or owning a firearm.

However, a video uploaded to YouTube showed Gambino armed with several firearms, including what appears to be an AR-15, according to the complaint.

The video, uploaded Dec. 21 by "Tony Gambino," advertises services for Gambino Security Safety Corp. No one answered the company's telephone when called on Tuesday.

Gambino's attorney, Brian Pori, said Gambino's arrest was a mistake.

"Oftentimes in government, the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and I think that is what happened here," Pori said. "This is a guy who was training with the SJC Sheriff's Office — why would you do that if you are contemplating a crime?"

Sheriff Ken Christesen said in an interview Tuesday that he first met Gambino in June 2014 through another law enforcement officer. He said Gambino told him he was a military veteran with ongoing medical issues related to his service.

"People come up to me all the time, from all walks of life, and I don't run background checks on everyone I talk to," Christesen said.

The sheriff said when Gambino asked to shoot video of the SWAT team training, he agreed because he thought he was helping a veteran get a private security business off the ground.

"It wasn't long after we found out, we figured out, what he was doing," Christesen said. "When we found out he was a convicted felon."

The sheriff's office referred its findings to the Department of Homeland Security, which launched a federal investigation.

In February, a special agent contacted Gambino via email about hiring his firm to provide "tactical-type training" to the fictitious Middle Eastern company, the affidavit states. Gambino allegedly told the agent he was a combat veteran "who had earned medals and ribbons such as the Purple Heart," according to the complaint.

The agent learned that Gambino had fraudulently enlisted in the Marine Corps using his brother's name and was discharged after about eight months when officials learned of the ruse, the complaint states.

Gambino was arrested May 12 after meeting with an undercover agent to discuss the training contract.

A .45-caliber handgun was seized from Gambino's vehicle, and he surrendered several more firearms located at his residence, the warrant states.

Pori said Tuesday that his client was released from jail without bond Monday after a detention hearing.

A new court date for Gambino has not yet been scheduled, according to court records.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644. 

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