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Sentencing set for activist who derailed auction

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - An environmental activist convicted of derailing a 2008 government auction of oil and gas leases near two Utah national parks is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court.
By JENNIFER DOBNER
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - An environmental activist convicted of derailing a 2008 government auction of oil and gas leases near two Utah national parks is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday in federal court.

A Salt Lake City jury in March convicted Tim DeChristopher on felony counts of interfering with and making false representations at a government auction.

"I have no regrets" DeChristopher said after the verdict was read. "I have been ready since I took this action to face the consequences."

A protest rally - complete with songs from Peter Yarrow of the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary - organized by DeChristopher's nonprofit group "Peaceful Uprising" is planned for a plaza across the street from the downtown courthouse.

Federal prosecutors have objected to a U.S. Probation Office report that recommends a sentence less than the 10-year maximum.

They contend the report underestimates the harm caused when DeChristopher ran up the price of 13 parcels of land near Utah's Arches and Canyonlands national parks, pushing the bids beyond the reach of other buyers in December 2008.

The former wilderness guide ended up with $1.7 million in leases on 22,500 acres. DeChristopher could not pay for the leases and his actions cost some angry oilmen hundreds of thousands of dollars in higher bids for other parcels.

"He lied, obstructed lawful government proceedings and caused extraordinary loss to others. Unilaterally, he played out the parts of accuser, jury and judge as he determined the fate of the oil-and-gas lease auction and its intended participants that day," prosecutors said in court documents.

DeChristopher is the only person ever prosecuted for failing to make good on bids at a lease auction of public lands in Utah.

A University of Utah economics student at the time of the bids, DeChristopher offered to cover the bill with an Internet fundraising campaign, but the government refused to accept any of the money.

DeChristopher has never denied his crimes and has said his actions were an act of civil disobedience.

During the trial, DeChristopher testified that he didn't originally intend to bid on the leases, but decided during the auction that he wanted to delay the sale so the new Obama administration could reconsider the leases.

A federal judge later blocked many of the leases from being issued.

The case has elevated DeChristopher to folk hero status and become a symbol of solidarity for environmentalists, including celebrities like Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah.

Activists contend DeChistopher was simply standing up to a federal agency that had violated federal environmental laws by holding the auction in the first place.

"He wanted to give some hope to people," defense attorney Ronald Yengich told jurors during the trial's closing arguments.

"You may disagree with how he went about it, the government may disagree. But that was his purpose in being there. It wasn't to fool anybody."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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