Eco-activist who blocked BLM auction in Utah is convicted
A federal jury in Salt Lake City on Thursday convicted environmental activist Tim DeChristopher of two felony counts for using bogus bids to block the auction of 22,000 of federal land near national parks in southern Utah.
The jury deliberated for five hours before reaching its verdict. DeChristopher, 29, had infiltrated the Bureau of Land Management's auction in December 2008 as a protest against the move in the waning days of the Bush administration to open up the land to oil and gas exploration. He bid nearly $1.8 million for the 13 parcels with no ability to pay for them.
Weeks later a federal judge blocked the sale and the new Obama administration pulled the parcels from the auction block, contending their sale was improper. But the U.S. attorney's office still filed charges against DeChristopher, contending he took civil disobedience a step too far. He could face up to 10 years in prison when he is later sentenced.
Thursday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen praised the verdict in a statement. "We recognize that individuals have deeply held opinions when it comes to the use and management of our public lands," she said. "As citizens of this country, we are free to hold and express these differing views. However, there are ways to express these opinions and advocate for change without violating the law, disrupting open public processes, and causing financial harm to the government and other individuals."
Supporters kept a steady vigil outside the federal courthouse during the three-day trial. DeChristopher was unrepentant when he emerged after the verdict.
"We now know I’ll have to go to prison," DeChristopher said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. "That’s the job I have to do."
"If we want to achieve our vision," he said, "many more will have to join me."
The judge in the case had ruled that DeChristopher's defense could not raise civil disobedience or the controversial history of the leases as an explanation for the illegal bids. On the witness stand, DeChristopher testified that “I was there to raise a red flag. I wanted to delay [the auction] so that the government could take a second look, and make sure they were following their own rules.”
-- Nicholas Riccardi
Photo: Tim DeChristopher, now 29, after he won bids in a BLM auction on 13 parcels that he couldn't pay for as a protest against the Bush administration's sale of lands in southern Utah. Credit: Courtney Sargent / Deseret News