Walsh: Hatch is picky about his producers

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After reading People and Us magazine, I know that I'd serve more time for a DUI than Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie. Justice is usually softer for celebrities.

Weldon Angelos just isn't a big enough star.

He's the forgotten Utah hip-hop producer serving 55 years for carrying a gun while selling 24 ounces of marijuana. Condemned by minimum-mandatory sentencing guidelines, Angelos also has been forsaken by his elected representative -- music-loving Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Hatch called "the appropriate people" at the Department of Justice when he learned of rapper John Forte's plight: A record producer who worked on The Fugees' Grammy-winning album "The Score," Forte was arrested in 2000 at Newark airport with 31 pounds of liquid cocaine. He was sentenced to another minimum-mandatory sentence of 14 years.

Almost from the time he entered prison, Forte had Utah's senior senator on his side. Three years ago Hatch pushed Justice for a prison transfer so to transfer Forte from a Pennsylvania prison to Fort Dix so he could be closer to his family. And last November, after Hatch and Carly Simon pleaded Forte's case, President Bush bestowed one of his rare pardons.

"Frankly, he's a genius," Hatch gushes. He's a big fan.

Forte returns the love. "Senator Hatch is a superhero of a mentor to me," he told The Star-Ledger. "I am looking forward to putting our creative minds together in the studio, sooner rather than later."

We're all waiting for that track.

Despite his love for rap producers, Hatch is unmoved by Angelos' story: The 29-year-old father of two young children was caught selling three 8-oz. baggies of pot in a series of stings. His first offense. In exchange for reduced sentences, informants testified he brandished a gun. Angelos disputes their stories. When he wouldn't plead guilty, prosecutors tacked on additional gun charges, ratcheting his sentence up in five-year increments. A jury recommended at most an 18-year sentence. But federal Judge Paul Cassell's hands were tied. He called the sentence "unjust, cruel and irrational."

"John Forte had more prominent supporters," says Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor who filed the petition for clemency. "That's the story of Carly Simon and Orrin Hatch."

Angelos isn't famous. He didn't go to school with Ben Taylor, son of James Taylor and Simon. He founded Extravagant Records. I was visitor number 1,677 to the web site Wednesday. Needless to say, it's not Def Jam.

His attorneys aren't asking for a pardon, just reasonable punishment. Angelos has served five years. He's likely to die before he leaves prison. Bush left office this week without acting on his request for clemency.

Hatch could lobby the new president, but he won't. He doesn't seem bothered by his own haphazard, fame-driven intervention policy. Angelos is a drug user, the senator argues, but Forte was not. The difference between $1.4 million in liquid cocaine and $1,050 in marijuana seems just as lost on Hatch as it was on prosecutors.

"There's an injustice crying out to be corrected," says Berman. "I don't see how anyone could think a 55-year sentence is the right punishment in these circumstances."

Hatch does.

Maybe if Marie Osmond weighed in...

Rebecca Walsh is a columnist. Reach her at walsh@sltrib.com.