Julie Carr Smyth

COLUMBUS: An Ohio lawmaker convicted of accepting trips, gifts and campaign cash in exchange for promising to introduce legislation was granted immediate release from prison on Thursday, after telling a judge he’s sorry for his mistakes and wants to turn his future to improving Ohio’s prison system.

Columbus Democrat W. Carlton Weddington, 44, appeared in handcuffs and prison attire before Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott. Weddington had served more than two years of a three-year prison sentence.

He apologized to his constituents and his family, telling Serrott he has owned his mistakes and intends to turn them into an opportunity. Weddington said he has gained unique perspective behind bars about the prison system he once helped to oversee as a member of the state Correctional Institution Inspection Committee.

“It is my intent now, your honor, to actively pursue change through meaningful discussion of (prison department) policies,” the former lawmaker said. “This is where I would like to continue my purpose, my means of not only helping myself but others who have been in my position.”

Weddington pleaded guilty in 2012 to bribery, election falsification and filing a false financial disclosure statement. Authorities said he accepted all-expenses-paid trips to Miami’s South Beach and California’s Napa Valley and other items of value from a fake business entity set up by the FBI in exchange for legislation he would introduce.

In releasing Weddington, Serrott said he believes Weddington knows what he did was wrong.

“The public already had a poor view of public officials, but what happened only continued to hurt people’s trust in government,” the judge said. “But I do know you are an individual who is resilient, who has talent and passion. I’ve always been impressed with you, and I do believe in redemption.”

Serrott released Weddington two years and two months into a three-year prison sentence on several conditions. The former lawmaker must remain on intense supervision for up to five years, undergo regular alcohol and substance abuse evaluations, and stay out of bars that serve only alcohol.

Weddington also must complete 40 hours of community service, specifically speaking to business, political and legal groups about the influences of lobbyists on the law-making process and the “pitfalls that are out there.” Serrott also assigned Weddington another 20 hours of community service to work on prison reforms.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien told Serrott that, while he did not support early release, Weddington had generally cooperated with investigators in an ongoing investigation into payday industry lobbying and so he would defer to the court’s judgment on the matter.

“I think the potential’s there,” O’Brien said. “I don’t know that I’m necessarily as confident as the judge.”