Obama Asked To Commute Utah Producer’s Sentence

A group of prominent officials and activists are petitioning President Barack Obama to commute the 55-year prison term of a Utah music producer convicted of selling $350 worth of marijuana while keeping guns in his house.

The appeal was filed with the White House on Wednesday by more than 100 high-profile people, including an ex-FBI director, former judges and prosecutors, scholars and notable former Utah politicians like Norm Bangerter and Jake Garn. Social activists such as Daniel Ellsberg and celebrities such as singer Bonnie Raitt also added their signatures.

They have held up Weldon Angelos as an example of what’s wrong with federal mandatory minimum sentences. He had no criminal record. Even the judge who sentenced him called it “unjust, cruel and irrational” and “one of those rare cases where the system has malfunctioned.”

Angelos was convicted after a seven-day federal trial in December 2003 of 16 counts of drug trafficking, weapons possession and money laundering.

The penalty for possessing firearms during a drug transaction is a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for the first offense and 25 years for each subsequent transaction. There is no parole in the federal system.

The father of two was 23 when he was put behind bars in 2004. Angelos founded Extravagant Records in Utah, producing hip-hop and rap music.

His case drew outrage from many notable people. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Fox News earlier this year: “We can’t put a fellow like that in jail for 55 years.” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, underscored Angelos’ predicament during a Sept. 18 hearing to re-evaluate federal mandatory minimum sentences.

“There is no question that Mr. Angelos committed a crime and deserved to be punished. But 55 years?” Leahy said. “Mr. Angelos will be in prison until he is nearly 80 years old. His children, only 5 and 6 at the time of his sentencing, will be in their 60s. American taxpayers will have spent more than $1.5 million locking him up.”

Angelos denied he had any guns, but police said they found several firearms while searching his apartment. He never brandished or used a gun during a pot sale, according to trial testimony.

Prosecutors have said Angelos rejected a plea offer for a 15-year sentence for a single drug distribution and firearm count. They withdrew the offer and got a new indictment with 20 charges.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah declined to comment. In 2004, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund said of Angelos’ sentence: “This sends the message that people who engage in armed drug dealing are going to face very serious consequences.”

Two years later, the sentence was upheld by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Angelos’ petition for a hearing.

Angelos is incarcerated at a federal prison in Lompoc, Calif.

“He is doing OK,” Lisa Angelos, Weldon’s sister, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “He is getting very excited for the submission of this letter, and he is extremely overwhelmed with joy and appreciation (for) everyone’s efforts. He feels extremely blessed to have so many people supporting him.”

Photo: Ed Andrieski/AP File
Members of Safer Choice outside the federal appeals court in Denver, where the court was hearing the appeal of Weldon Angelos.

In a statement relayed by his sister, Angelos said that he and his family “are encouraged by this bipartisan show of support. It’s certainly a diverse group of influential people, and we hope it makes a difference when President Obama decides who will receive clemency this holiday season.”