A federal jury in Salt Lake City on Thursday convicted a 29-year-old environmental activist of two felonies for bidding for public lands being auctioned off to energy companies by the George W. Bush administration.
Tim DeChristopher won bids in December 2008 totaling $1.79 million for more than 22,000 acres near Arches and Canyonlands national parks that the administration was offering to lease for oil and gas exploration.
DeChristopher did not have the money, and he has said he bid in an attempt to delay or block the energy leases — or at least to drive the prices up.
Prosecutors charged him with making false statements and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act. He could face up to 10 years in prison.
"I'm as prepared as I can be" for prison, DeChristopher said after the verdict. He said he was not surprised that the Obama administration pursued the case against him. "I can't point to many examples where they've sided with future generations over corporate interests," he said.
U.S. Atty. Carlie Christensen said in a statement that the government recognized the deeply held opinions about public lands, but added that there were ways to advocate without "disrupting open public processes and causing financial harm to the government and other individuals."
The Bush administration put the Utah leases up for sale on election day 2008, sparking protests that it was trying to give away valuable energy rights to its supporters. Weeks after DeChristopher's bid, a federal judge halted the sales, finding that the proper steps were not taken. The Obama administration later voided most of the leases.
The judge in DeChristopher's case ruled that his defense could not raise the issue of civil disobedience or the history of the leases as an explanation for the illegal bids.