“I sometimes drive near the prison where he’s held, and I think, ‘Gosh he shouldn’t be there. Certainly not as long as I had to send him there. … That wasn’t the right thing to do. The system forced me to do it,'” said former federal Judge Paul Cassell in comments to ABC News about the plight of Weldon Angelos, a father and rap record label founder whom Cassell was forced to sentence to 55 years for three low-level marijuana sales due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In 2002, then 24-year-old Angelos, whose record label had recently attracted a collaboration with rap superstar Snoop Dogg, had also been moonlighting as a pot dealer. Federal authorities caught wind of his side gig and launched a sting operation against Angelos, purchasing small amounts of marijuana from him on three separate occasions through an informant. Angelos, who happened to be carrying a gun for protection which he did not brandish or use for any violent purpose, was subsequently tried and convicted on three counts of selling narcotics while in possession of a firearm. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws forced Judge Cassell to sentence Angelos to 55 years with no chance of parole, a near-life sentence for the Salt Lake City father of two.
“If he had been an aircraft hijacker, he would have gotten 24 years in prison. If he’s been a terrorist, he would have gotten 20 years in prison. If he was a child rapist, he would have gotten 11 years in prison. And now I’m supposed to give him a 55-year sentence? I mean, that’s just not right,” said Cassell of Angelos’ case.
According to The Daily Beast, Angelos’ plight caught the attention of the billionaire Koch brothers, whose millennial outreach group Generation Opportunity used some of the duo’s oft-demonized out-sized wealth to produce a documentary, which debuted last week at the Newseum in Washington DC, highlighting Angelos’ unjust sentence. The documentary release coincides with a broader Koch brothers initiative to promote criminal justice reform throughout 2015. A trailer for the film can be seen in the above-embedded video player.
“[This year] offers a unique moment in history in which people of different backgrounds and political leanings are coming together to facilitate a substantive dialogue on how to fix [the criminal justice system]. We can work towards a more just system that reflects the rule of law without overcriminalizing non-violent offenses,” said Generation Opportunity president Evan Feinberg in comments to The Daily Beast.
Weldon Angelos’ family requested two years ago that President Obama grant clemency for the father of two, who has already spent 11 years behind bars, but the administration has yet to respond. Lisa Angelos, Weldon’s sister, described the impact his incarceration has had on his children, “Being around them you can feel their heart ache, even though their laughter, and watching them play and do the fun stuff, you can still feel it. Seeing what they have gone through by losing their father, it just emotionally destroys me.”
The Koch brothers, who are often accused by left-leaning politicos of using their disproportionate wealth to buy elections in an effort to bend policies in favor of the rich and at the expense of the poor, have in the past used their hard-earned dollars to help poor people facing unjust prosecutions obtain legal representation.
Ben Swann took on the federal government’s mixed messages on marijuana prohibition in a September 2014 Truth in Media episode, seen in the player below.