Published on
The Salt Lake Tribune (Utah)

US Attorney Seeks to Block Another DeChristopher Defense

Patty Henetz

DeChristopher is charged with two felonies for placing bogus bids worth $1.8 million during a 2008 oil and gas lease auction in Salt Lake City,in an act of civil disobedience to protest Bush administration oil and gas policies. (Photo: The Salt Lake Tribune).

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Just because other bidders have failed to pay for oil and gas leases without facing federal prosecution doesn't mean the U.S. attorney for Utah discriminated against monkey-wrencher Tim DeChristopher by indicting him, new court papers say.

Prosecutors filed papers Friday that say DeChristopher's January motion for evidence from the Justice Department, Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department supporting a claim of selective prosecution shouldn't be granted.

"Mr. DeChristopher has failed to make any credible showing," the motion says, "that the prosecution in this case was the product of a policy that had a discriminatory effect or that it was motivated by a discriminatory purpose."

DeChristopher, 28, charged with two felonies for placing bogus bids worth $1.8 million during a 2008 oil and gas lease auction in Salt Lake City, stated in his motion that 35 bidders have defaulted on 152 parcels during the past five years for an estimated loss of $3.4 million.

That information came from an August 2009 Interior Department report, which referred to "bid-walkers" who don't pay up after winning parcels at oil and gas lease auctions.

Two of the 35 bid-walkers, DeChristopher and a New Mexico man, didn't intend to pay. The New Mexico man wasn't prosecuted. But because DeChristopher was the only Utah example, federal prosecutors say, he can't prove the U.S. Attorney's Office here discriminated against him.

DeChristopher's lawyers -- defense attorney Ron Yengich and Pat Shea, a former national BLM director -- are seeking all internal documents showing policies that affect the prosecution and all communications about the case against their client.

Prosecutors counter that unless he can prove charges were brought for reasons forbidden by the U.S. Constitution, he is not entitled to the documents.

That argument sounds circular to Shea, who said the government appears to believe that because it knows DeChristopher's intent, it doesn't need to reveal its own. "What's good for the government," Shea said, "ought to be good for us."

Shea added that the defense knows of witnesses within the Interior Department who would corroborate allegations of discrimination but they fear retaliation.

DeChristopher acknowledged he made the bids Dec. 19, 2008, as an act of civil disobedience to protest Bush administration policies he said worsened the global climate crisis and threatened the health of everyone on the planet. He was indicted April 1 on two felony counts and later pleaded not guilty.

In November, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson refused to allow DeChristopher to mount a lesser-evils, or necessity, defense that he tried to sabotage the auction to combat global warming.

A jury trial has been set for March 15-17.
How the case got to here

Auction » Tim DeChristopher disrupted a U.S. Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction Dec. 19, 2008, in Salt Lake City.

$1.8 million in bids » After he bid $1.8 million to win bids on 14 parcels near Arches and Canyonlands national parks and drove up bidding on several others, BLM agents removed him from the auction room for questioning.

Civil disobedience » The University of Utah economics major, who has become a folk hero to many since the lease sale, acknowledged his false bidding, saying it was an act of civil disobedience in protest of Bush administration policies that worsened the global climate crisis.

Leases shelved » On Feb. 4, 2009, Ken Salazar, President Barack Obama's Interior secretary, shelved 77 contested lease parcels, including the ones DeChristopher won, and scolded the Bush team for rushing reviews of the disputed sites.

Indictment » On April 1, a federal grand jury handed up a two-count felony indictment against DeChristopher for violating the terms of the auction he promised to observe when he signed up to bid. He pleaded not guilty April 28.

Defense denied » On Nov. 16, a federal judge refused to let DeChristopher argue in court that he tried to sabotage the auction to combat the climate-change crisis.

New defense sought » Last month, DeChristopher's attorneys filed a motion arguing that their client is a victim of selective prosecution. Federal lawyers are fighting that motion.

Trial set » A jury trial has been scheduled for March 15-17.

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