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Utah man enlists Hollywood stars and D.C. power brokers in quest for justice

Posted at 6:12 PM, Nov 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-16 23:39:31-05

DRAPER, Utah -- If his mandatory minimum federal sentence were still in force, Weldon Angelos would still have forty years of prison ahead of him.

His crime? Selling $350 worth of marijuana to an informant who said Angelos was carrying a gun. When he was arrested, Angelos had just produced an album with rapper Snoop Dog, marveling at his good fortune as a Utah kid making it in hip-hop.

Instead, Angelos spent 13 years in prison. From age 22 to 35, he sat locked up in Southern California while his two young boys grew into young men two states away.

"Thirteen years of memories of nothing but prison," Angelos said describing the loss he feels, "In my mind, I just couldn't accept that you can really get 55 years for these small offenses."

In any state court, lawyers told Angelos he would have gotten probation or six months in jail.

While Angelos mourns the loss of years with his family, he realizes he benefited from powerful support. Federal mandatory minimums are just that. Mandatory. It took his prosecutor and judge arguing for a rare exception to the rule.

His advocates in the down times included his devoted sister Lisa, a U.S. Senator, and a long list of Hollywood A-listers.

He rattles off the names of the stars now supporting his push for criminal justice reform.

"We have Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Alyssa Milano, Alicia Silverstone..."

Angelos is setting up a foundation, and he's been filming a documentary produced by the actor Mark Wahlberg.

The point of it all is a promise he made to friends in Lompoc Federal Penitentiary in California.

"Some of the people in there had more compelling cases than me, and they have no chance of getting out, so I promised them I'd do everything I could to get them out," said Angelos.

It's been a good week for the former inmate. President Trump reversed course, announcing support for the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill Senator Mike Lee has been championing for years.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was opposed to reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, and Republican opposition in the Senate kept it from passing despite earlier support from President Barack Obama.

And next week promises good things as well, as Angelos releases the trailer for his documentary, expecting a 2019 release.

Angelos sees hope for his friends in prison, though he knows it may take time.

He's grown used to waiting.