U.S. District Judge Paul Cassell said federal minimum mandatory sentencing laws left him no choice but to impose what he called an "unjust and cruel and even irrational" prison term on Weldon Angelos, 25.
Angelos will be 80 years old before he is freed.
The 55-year term was mandated by Angelos' three gun-possession convictions. For 13 other drug and money laundering counts, Cassell imposed one additional day behind bars.
Speaking to a courtroom packed with Angelos' family and friends, Cassell called on the president to intervene and said he recommended a sentence of 18 years.
A national debate over minimum mandatory sentences drew national attention to Angelos' case. A group of 29 former federal judges and prosecutors filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking Cassell to reject the mandatory term for Angelos.
They argued the punishment violates the constitution by taking sentencing authority away from judges and essentially giving it to prosecutors, who wield tremendous power to decide which charges to bring.
The U.S. Attorney¹s Office for Utah, however, contended mandatory minimums are constitutional. At a hearing in September, assistant U.S. attorney Robert Lund said Congress had approved minimum mandatory sentences because of the dangerousness of mixing drug sales and guns.
A federal jury in December convicted Angelos of 16 counts of drug trafficking, weapons possession and money laundering. Federal law required him to be sentenced to at least 55 years in prison for three convictions of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The gun convictions carried a mandatory five years for the first count and 25 years for each subsequent count, to be served consecutively.
-- Pamela Manson