CRIME

Utah man talks about justice reform after his pardon from President Trump

Jan 5, 2021, 5:40 PM
President Trump pardon Utah man...
FILE: Weldon Angelos with his two sons, Anthony, 7, and Jesse James, 5, in Sandy on Friday Aug. 11, 2006. (Photo: Deseret News)
(Photo: Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man is working to reform the US criminal justice system after a decades-long prison sentence for selling $350 worth of marijuana to a police informant was terminated by a pardon from President Donald Trump.

After serving 12 and a half years of a 55-year prison sentence, Weldon Angelos received a pardon from President Trump on Dec. 22, 2020.

A former hip-hop producer and Snoop Dogg collaborator, Angelos joined host Debbie Dujanovic and guest host, Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack, on KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic to discuss his case.

Case background

Angelos was accused of selling marijuana worth a total of $350 to a police informant on three occasions. The witness said Angelos had a firearm strapped to his ankle, but no photographs or evidence existed other than his testimony, according to the Wikipedia file on his case. 

Title 18, Section 924(c) of the federal code[4] provides for mandatory sentences for dealers who carry firearms during drug transactions.

In November 2004, Angelos was sentenced to a minimum of 55 to 63 years in prison. Angelos had a projected release date of Nov. 18, 2051. 

US Court Judge Paul Cassell for the District of Utah, who sentenced Angelos to 55 years, said that due to mandatory minimum-sentencing guidelines, he had no choice but to impose the prison time. Cassell called the sentence “unjust and cruel and even irrational.”

Asking questions

“He’s convicted by a jury on 16 counts. Caught selling marijuana to a police informant three times, according to the court record. And also caught with guns. Weldon, was it one or two cases where they caught you with a gun on your person? And then they went into your home and found more guns. Now you were released from prison early. Your sentence was reduced. In 2016, you were released from prison. Now you’ve been pardoned by the president. What’s the benefit of having this pardon?” Debbie asked.

“Well, first I just want to correct you there. I was never caught with a firearm during any cannabis sale. It was actually just a belated allegation of a confidential informant that went actually against the testimony of two police officers who were there at the time who didn’t see a gun or report hearing the informant mention seeing a gun,” Angelos said.

What the pardon from President Trump means for a Utah man

Angelos, who continues to call Utah home, said the benefit of his pardon from President Trump is he is no longer a felon; therefore, doesn’t have to check a box every time he fills out an application for a job or a loan or to rent an apartment or a home. He also added that his Second Amendment right to own a firearm has been restored with the presidential pardon.

Boyack asked Angelos if, looking back, he was glad he rejected a 15-year plea bargain that was offered to him.

“Absolutely, I’m glad I rejected it,” Angelos said. “That was an unfair plea offer — 15 years for a $300 transaction to get me to admit to something that was in fact not true. It was absolutely outrageous. They actually attacked me so aggressively over some small amounts of marijuana, I think, to put the maximum amount of pressure on me because of my connections to Snoop Dogg. I know they had interest in arresting or prosecuting Snoop Dogg. When they realize that was not going to happen through me, they became very aggressive and committed to the need to see me do a long prison term.”

Working for justice reform

“I’m wondering if you were more of an anomaly in this system. Does the system really need a correction? Are there more Weldons out there?” Debbie asked.

“There are plenty more Weldon Angeloses out there. They’re even cases more egregious than mine. That’s what I’ve been doing since I got out,” he said.

Since receiving the pardon from President Trump, the Utah resident said he continues to work with the White House to pass bipartisan criminal-justice reform legislation and correct mandatory minimum drug sentencing guidelines.

“It corrected the statute that got me 55 years,” Angelos said. “That can’t happen anymore. Prosecutors can’t threaten someone like myself with 100 years if they don’t accept a plea offer. If I’d been prosecuted now, my maximum sentence would’ve been 15 years, not my minimum . . . Hopefully, we can keep this going under the next administration.”

How much time behind bars?

“Objectively speaking, if you were in Judge Cassell’s shoes, how much time would you have given yourself behind bars or would you not have given yourself any time behind bars?” Debbie asked.

“Judge Cassell had no discretion to fashion an appropriate sentence. He was bound by the mandatory minimum of 55 years,” Angelos said. “I think Judge Cassell, if he had the discretion, he probably would’ve given me around eight years.”

Angelos said he was not innocent. He said he was selling marijuana and owned legal guns. What was incorrect about his legal case, he said, was that he showed a gun to the informant during a drug transaction.

“So that aspect of it was concocted by the informant and his handler,” he said. “But everything else I admitted from day one. Of course I was selling marijuana. I was never disputing that. In our system, it’s been actually a regular occurrence that informants and sometimes agents lie to win a case because in our system winning means everything to them.” 

How much time is the right amount?

“Just to clarify, how much time with you have given yourself?” Debbie asked again.

“I would’ve give myself a year and a day, and that would have done the same thing it did now,” he said. “After I got out I would not have gone back to selling marijuana or mishandle firearms because even just going through a trial and getting a felony conviction was enough. It’s enough for other people, too, to say, OK you know what, I need to stop messing around and stop breaking the law. The 55 years was overkill. The 15-year offer was overkill.”

Angelos said the presiding judge in his case, just one hour before his sentencing, gave a defendant in a second-degree felony murder a 17 year sentence.

“That’s how ridiculous our system was,” Angelos said.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

 

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Utah man talks about justice reform after his pardon from President Trump