Ex-sheriff Billy Long will now spend less time in prison

Former Sheriff Billy Long is led out of the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building after being sentenced to prison.

Billy Long, the former Hamilton County sheriff who extorted small-business owners through an illegal campaign contribution scheme, could be leaving federal prison sooner than expected.

U.S. Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice on Wednesday reduced Long's sentence from 135 months to 120 months, the lowest punishment under the country's mandatory sentencing minimums, his lawyers said.

"I'm not sure what the end result will be," said his attorney, Jerry Summers, "but we're glad to provide him more relief."

As a result, Long could be transitioned into a halfway house in Chattanooga by the end of summer or early fall, his attorneys said. Before the reduction, his expected release date was Nov. 20, 2017, from a federal facility in Oxford, Wis., records show.

The order, which reduces his sentence to 10 years, should move that release date sooner, co-attorney Marya Schalk said. It also includes "good-time" credit, which factors into taking time off Long's release date.

"If they decide to let him in a halfway house, it could be very soon," Schalk said. "It doesn't mean that he would be, but he'd be eligible."

photo Former Sheriff Billy Long is led out of the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building after being sentenced to prison.

In 2008, Long pleaded guilty to 27 of 28 counts on an indictment involving extortion, money laundering, providing a firearm to a felon and possession of more than 5 kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute.

Prosecutors alleged Long extorted as much as $525,000 from area small-business owners through an illegal campaign contribution scheme. After federal agents learned of the scheme, they used a reverse-sting operation from February 2007 to February 2008 before charging the then-sheriff.

Since then, Long has undergone a lengthy appeals process.

In 2012, after Long had served more than four years in prison, a judge lopped three years off of his 14-year sentence. Roughly one year later, though, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected an appeal for further reduction.

Summers argued for another reduction in December 2014, which coincided with the federal guidelines becoming more lenient for nonviolent drug offenders.

In February 2015, Bill Killian, then U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, said the government didn't oppose such a reduction and deferred to the court's judgment.

"To his credit, [Long] has not incurred any disciplinary sanctions while incarcerated," Killian wrote in a motion.

Federal records show Long, 63, completed a beginning guitar lessons class, a veteran's re-entry program and had an outstanding work history at the institution.

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