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Couple who tipped off drug dealers could be free after third sentencing

Published April 14, 2005 12:57 am

Appeals judge: Could reinstate her first sentence, letting ex-spouses go
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An appeals court has ordered new sentencing hearings for a federal court clerk who stole a sealed document for her then-husband, who tipped off Salt Lake City drug dealers to an investigation into their activities.

The ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals means a third sentencing for Shari Lewis Lang and Johnny Lang could lead to an immediate end to their punishment.

"It's good news," Kenneth Brown, a Salt Lake City attorney for Shari Lang, said Wednesday. "With any luck, she shouldn't have to go back [to prison]."

Shari Lang was released from prison last year and allowed to remain free pending the 10th Circuit decision. Johnny Lang is still in custody. His attorney also was happy with the decision.

"It's fortunate that he gets another shot at it," Stephen McCaughey said.

The case began in June 2001, when Shari Lang, a new clerk at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, made a copy of a sealed document about the German Perez drug ring. Shari says she read the document to her husband, a Centerville truck driver, who then went to a pay phone to alert the dealers they were under investigation.

The two were found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and acting as accessories after the fact to the distribution of heroin. Shari Lang also was convicted of unlawfully removing a document from the clerk's office and Johnny Lang of making a false statement to the FBI.

At their original sentencing, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell meted out terms of four years' incarceration. Prosecutors challenged the sentences as too lenient under federal sentencing guidelines and the 10th Circuit last year ordered the pair, now divorced, to be resentenced.

Campbell then imposed a 97-month term on Shari Lang, who was in a halfway house and a week from going home, and a 6 1/2 -year term on Johnny Lang. The two appealed.

On Tuesday, the 10th Circuit granted new sentencings based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that made sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory. Campbell could reinstate her original sentence of 46 months, time that the Langs already have served.

Brown said Shari Lang has suffered tremendously for her actions.

"For her hour of involvement, she bought herself 97 months," the lawyer said. "It's just a horrendous situation."

Perez, the reputed head of the drug ring, pleaded guilty in 2003 to conspiracy to distribute narcotics and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

pmanson@sltrib.com