Donald Trump

Watch a Former Federal Inmate Respond to Trump's Demagoguery on Commutations

Weldon Angelos was released early from a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for a first-time drug offense. Trump said "bad dudes" like him shouldn't be freed.

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Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Newscom

For a counterpoint to Donald Trump's loud rhetoric on draconian sentencing laws, there are few people with the perspective of Weldon Angelos, who appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe on Monday.

Angelos served nearly 13 years of a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for a nonviolent, first-time drug offense before being released early in June, and since then he's become one of the busiest advocates for rolling back federal sentencing guidelines. Angelos appeared on Morning Joe with Mark Holden, the general counsel of Koch Industries and one of Angelos' biggest supporters while he was in prison, to talk about his time in prison and release.

"It was a nightmare," Angelos told Scarborough. "The whole time was just torturous knowing that I could spend the rest of my life in prison for something that would have netted me maybe six months in the state system."

Angelos' nightmare appears to be Trump's "law and order" dream. At a campaign rally last Thursday, Trump bashed President Obama's recent order to commute the sentences of more than 200 federal inmates, most of them serving time for nonviolent drug offenses.

"Some of these people are bad dudes," Trump said, "And these are people who are out, they're walking the streets. Sleep tight, folks."

Trump has used a recent spike in violent crime in several major U.S. cities to bash the criminal justice reform efforts being pushed by a fragile bipartisan alliance of groups like Koch Industries, the liberal Center for American Progress, the Obama administration, and FreedomWorks, a libertarian-leaning advocacy groups that works with members of Congress on the issue.

Watch the video below:

Angelos' sentence wasn't commuted by the president, but Trump would likely lump him into the "bad dude" category anyway. Angelos was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover officer three times. Because he was carrying a gun during one of those sales, although he never brandished or showed it, the judge in his case was forced to sentence him to a mandatory 55 years in federal prison.

Angelos' release was championed by the judge who was forced to sentence him and Republican Sen. Mike Lee, among others. Last year, the group Generation Opportunity produced a short documentary about his case.

He was finally freed from prison in June under an unusual agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office not to oppose his release. Angelos said he surprised his sons—five and six years old when he stepped into prison, now young adults—when he returned home.

"We just cried for a few minutes, and then laughed, and then ever since then we've just been enjoying life," Angelos said.

In 2014, I profiled several former inmates who had received presidential commutations—one of the most exclusive and luckiest clubs on earth. Here's some of the other "bad dudes" Trump doesn't want back on the street:

"We left so many people behind, and we have guilt like you can't imagine," De-Ann Coffman said.

But Coffman, along with the 13 others who won the federal prison lottery, have mostly looked ahead to the business of putting their lives back together. Coffman, whose 85-year sentence for drug conspiracy was commuted by Clinton, now owns an RV company in Texas that employs 38 people.

Peter Ninemire—24.5 years for growing marijuana, commuted after 11 years by Clinton—is a licensed addiction and mental health counselor in Kansas.

Serena Nunn, sentenced at age 19 to 16 years in prison for drug conspiracy, is an attorney who works with public defenders. The list goes on.

"The whole system is out of whack," Holden told Scarborough. "At the end of the day, the criminal justice system is just another failed big government program that picks winners and losers, destroys lives, destroys families. Weldon was in some senses lucky. He had a a lot people pulling for him. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of others who are in prison still."

Disclosure: David Koch is on the board of the Reason Foundation, which publishes Reason.com

NEXT: Is it a crime to publicly assert that a crime victim or witness is untrustworthy?

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  1. This is America, dammit. We demand simplistic solutions to complex issues.

  2. Angelos served nearly 13 years of a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence for a nonviolent, first-time drug offense

    That’s some vague journalism there…

    1. Exactly what nonviolent, first-time drug offense warrants 55 years?

      1. The one where you make three marijuana sales weeks apart to an informant and/or undercover officer and you have a firearm in your car or on your person.

        Weldon was indicted on 20 charges that carried a minimum sentence of 105 years. At trial, the jury convicted Weldon of 13 drug, firearm, and money laundering charges, as well as three counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Two of the three counts of possession of a firearm resulted from the gun he allegedly carried during the buys with the CI. The third count stemmed from a handgun found in a bag in Weldon’s home. Although one charge was dismissed and he was acquitted of three others, Weldon was sentenced to a mandatory 55 years in federal prison.

        Number of people he harmed 0. He sold pot. He carried a gun to protect himself since the govt wouldn’t. He hid his income from the government so that they wouldn’t throw him in a cage.

        Which is why he’s being treated worse than a cop who rapes a woman who called 911. The rapist cop is much less a threat to the state’s control than a dude smuggling contraband and selling it to people who want it.

      2. Keep reading: “Because he was carrying a gun during one of those sales, although he never brandished or showed it, the judge in his case was forced to sentence him to a mandatory 55 years in federal prison.”

        The article goes on: “Angelos’ release was championed by the judge who was forced to sentence him and Republican Sen. Mike Lee, among others.”

        This case was a clear cut case of why mandatory minimums are evil.

    2. I did some more specific journalism farther down in the article: “Angelos was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover officer three times. Because he was carrying a gun during one of those sales, although he never brandished or showed it, the judge in his case was forced to sentence him to a mandatory 55 years in federal prison.”

  3. RE: Watch a Former Federal Inmate Respond to Trump’s Demagoguery on Commutations

    We cannot allow people who sell drugs for the first time to let off so easily. Indeed, all people who engage in taking drugs should be given a life-without-parole sentence if we are to continue to hold the top spot of the world’s most incarcerated state. Too much is at stake here. First, people should not be allowed to ingest what they want. That implies freedom, and freedom is an anathema to not only our beloved ruling class vermin, but also to magnificent socialist slave state. Secondly, it would reduce the prison personnel that take the time and trouble to ensure the incarcerated are never forgiven. One could only speculate on the horrors of allowing the taxpayers to keep more of their hard earned dollars instead of wisely giving it to our local gulags. Lastly, forgiveness is so bourgeois. Does anyone here think that someone as kind and loving as Hitler, Stalin, Castro or Pol Pot would stoop so low as to forgive someone for such ugly violations against The State? Of course not, and neither should we if we are to be a true socialist totalitarian community.

  4. Angelos’ sentence wasn’t commuted by the president, but Trump would likely lump him into the “bad dude” category anyway.

    So Mr. Ciaramella isn’t just a journalist, he’s also a mind reader?

  5. Strange how Reason wants to blatantly ignore that these people were breaking numerous laws when they were caught.

    They are convicted of drugs because its EASY to do so, and because thats all thats needed to put them behind bars for extended periods of time. Not because its all they did.

    1. I know that bastard spit on the street when he was peddling the pot. Since he’s been in the pen the streets have been so much clean…..never mind.

  6. Let’s break this down–

    First, Trump’s never said anything about this guy. Not a word. He’s not even part of the people Obama released.

    Then let’s look at the “specific journalism”

    Angelos was arrested for selling marijuana to an undercover officer three times. Because he was carrying a gun during one of those sales, although he never brandished or showed it, the judge in his case was forced to sentence him to a mandatory 55 years in federal prison.

    Three times? What?

    This makes it sound like our buddy Angelos is just some street pusher. So why didn’t they bust him the fist time?

    1. con’t

      Here’s some more “specific journalism”, thanks tarran

      Between May and June 2002, Salt Lake City police set up a series of controlled buys from Weldon

      Controlled buys? THAT doesn’t sound like some low level dealer.

      …..whom they suspected was a member of the street gang Varrio Loco Town

      Okay, now this is a bit different.

      At trial, the jury convicted Weldon of 13 drug, firearm, and money laundering charges, as well as three counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

      That’s 16 counts. Not ‘one’–and he had a prior record of—wait for it–illegal possession of a handgun.

      Okay, so, based on just a few seconds of perusing the friendly site tarran posted, I get that he was a gang member with weapons priors, who sold pot to cops three times in a sting set up to get HIM (which implies that maybe he was a bigger fish).He was busted not just for pot(which is an irrelevancy, since I favor legalization) but for the gang activity associated with dealing.

      Gang activity is generally not ‘non-violent’.

      Mandatory minimum laws were passed at the behest of the people whose lives are routinely destroyed by gangs providing services to buyers and protecting the areas in which they do those things.

      1. con’t

        You’ve gone to a lot of trouble to try to make this guy look good. Yes it WAS a first drug offense–but it wasn’t a first WEAPONS offense. In fact–

        *Weldon received a 5-year mandatory minimum for the first charge of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime; a consecutive 25-year sentence for the second, and another consecutive 25-year sentence for the third. With a two-point firearm enhancement, Weldon’s adjusted guideline level was 78 to 97 months, to be served concurrently with the firearms mandatory minimums.

        It was the WEAPONS charges that mattered.

        Which brings us back to Trump. How many commuted sentences belonged to gang members who were arrested on drug charges? Because the ‘great guy’ example you put forward falls apart with a touch. And all Trump noted was that some of those commutations were of ‘bad guys’–Bad guys like Weldon Angelos?

        It’s not the drugs. It’s the gang activity. The gang activity is far worse than the drugs.

  7. Serious criminal justice reform needs to occur in this country. Here is an example of how bad it can be…Lenny Singleton. Lenny’s case illustrates sentencing disparity and is so bad it made the front page of the New York Times on July 5th, 2016. Here is a link to read that story… http://nyti.ms/29ik8sY

    Lenny has served almost 21 years, more time than rapists, child molesters, and murderers, for crimes in which he did not physically injure anyone and no one filed as a “victim”. During his entire time in prison, he has not received a single infraction for anything — very rare for lifers.

    Taxpayers will spend well over a million dollars to keep Lenny incarcerated for the rest of his life — for robbing less than $550 in crimes where no one was physically injured — a first time felon with a college degree who served in our Navy and who committed his crimes under the throes of an addiction to crack cocaine. Lenny is deserving of a second chance. Lenny does not want to continue to be a burden on society. Once released, our plan is to tour the country promoting our book, “Love Conquers All,” warning those that might be on the same path and hopefully, helping people to see the need for change in our criminal justice system.

    Please learn more & sign Lenny Singleton’s petition at http://www.justice4lenny.org.

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