- ‘Welcome to the edge of freedom’: Biden’s boots touch down in DMZ
- Obama: Hole U.S. ‘digging out of’ requires billions more in unemployment benefits
- Obama’s regulatory agenda will cost U.S. economy $143B next year: report
- Patriot Act author on James Clapper: Fire, prosecute him
- Russia P.M. Medvedev: No amnesty for political prisoners
- Michigan GOP Senate hopeful reminds government is the ‘servant’
- Christmas, by Congress: Members mull a 15-cent tax on trees
- U.S. unemployment falls to five-year low of 7 percent; 203K jobs added
- World mourns Nelson Mandela and celebrates his life; burial set for Dec. 15
- Bill O’Reilly reminds: Nelson Mandela ‘was a communist’
Trial over fake lease bids becomes cause celebre
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Opening statements begin Tuesday in the trial of a 29-year-old man accused of running up prices at an auction for federal drilling leases, a figure who has become a cause celebre among Hollywood stars and environmentalists that call his act of civil disobedience “selfless.”
Tim DeChristopher has pleaded not guilty to felony counts of interfering with and making false representations at a government auction. He is accused of racking up a total of $1.7 million in bids for 13 oil-and-gas leases near Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands national parks, without the ability to pay for them.
DeChristopher, a University of Utah economics student at the time, had offered to cover the bill with an Internet fundraising campaign, but the government refused to accept any of the money after the fact.
He doesn’t dispute the facts of the case and has said he expects to be convicted. He faces up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if he’s right.
Prosecutors have offered DeChristopher plea deals over the past two years, but he opted to go to trial.
The case has become a symbol of solidarity for environmentalists who want to protect the parcels of land, which totaled 22,500 acres around the two national parks.
About 400 people, including actress Daryl Hannah, gathered for a rally Monday, singing Pete Seeger’s protest song “If I Had Hammer,” criticizing government control of public lands and waving signs that called for DeChristopher to be “set free.”
“I’m here to support Tim, whose selfless act saved Utah’s red rock wilderness from exploitation,” said Salt Lake City resident Sheri Poe Bernard, 55. “This is a very important issue … and I think it’s a travesty that our federal government would put Tim on trial when George W. Bush is not being prosecuted.”
The bids had been made during the final drilling auction of the Bush administration.
A filmmaker from Telluride, Colo., filmed the rally for a documentary about DeChristopher. George Gage said he and his wife spent more than two years on the film, which he hopes will be accepted by Utah’s Sundance Film Festival _ an event founded by actor and director Robert Redford, who also supports DeChristopher.
Federal prosecutors have acknowledged that DeChristopher is the only person ever charged with failing to make good on bids at a lease auction of public lands in Utah. His actions led to higher bids for other parcels, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars for oil men.
“We were hosed,” said Jason Blake of Park City, shortly after the consulting geologist was outbid on a 320-acre parcel. “It’s very frustrating.”
Not everyone attending the protest march Monday supported the former wilderness guide’s actions. Highland real estate agent Robert Valentine mingled with environmentalists and talked about the need for Utah to “exploit” its natural resources to create jobs and fund the state’s schools.
“I want to protect the natural resources. My hobby is hiking,” the 69-year-old Valentine said. “But I think Utah ought to be allowed to have more control over the resources more than we do.”
DeChristopher, who plans to testify, has said the government violated environmental laws in holding the auction. A federal judge later blocked many of the leases from being issued.
- Spike in battlefield deaths linked to restrictive rules of engagement
- Bill OReilly reminds: Nelson Mandela was a communist
- Obama administration issues permits for wind farms to kill more eagles
- Kill team: Obama war chiefs widen drone death zones
- Obama tries to calm Israeli fears over Iranian nuke deal 'not based on trust'
- Obama: Hole U.S. 'digging out of' requires billions more in unemployment benefits
- John Boehner says GOP should support gay candidates: I do
- Craigslist killers: Police say newlyweds stabbed man for thrills
- Rush Limbaugh: Obama trying to make Mandela death about himself
- NAPOLITANO: Pope Francis should be saving souls, not pocketbooks
Independent voices from the The Washington Times Communities
Find the latest news and happening that effect those in the Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland Metro region.
A stat-head’s outlook, direct from his worn in couch cushion.
Classical music and the performing arts: news and reviews you can use.
Covering the world of soccer, including the World Cup, Major League Soccer, D.C. United and the English Premier League and other interesting sporting events.
White House pets gone wild!