- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) | A college student hopes the $45,000 he raised to cover his bids at a government oil-and-gas auction will keep him from being indicted on fraud charges.

Tim DeChristopher of Salt Lake City infiltrated the auction last month to run up prices for others and to try to protect wild areas in Utah. He ended up the winner of 22,500 acres between Arches and Canyonlands national parks but acknowledged he didn’t have the money to pay for the parcels.

Mr. DeChristopher, his supporters and lawyers announced Friday that they had raised $45,000 to make a down payment on the 13 parcels, for which he put in bids totaling $1.8 million.

Mr. DeChristopher said he appreciated the support from donors but wasn’t certain whether his money would be accepted. If it isn’t, he said he’d use the money to buy the same parcels if they go up for bid again.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the fundraising effort will keep the University of Utah economics student out of trouble.

“It’s too late for him to pay for anything,” said Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Mary Wilson in Salt Lake City. “You have to pay that day, in addition to meaning to pay. You have to put up the cash.”

She said Mr. DeChristopher owed an $81,238.50 deposit immediately after the Dec. 19 auction. BLM is the federal agency that leases public lands for energy development.

The auction is the subject of a legal challenge from environmental groups, and the government has agreed not to cash checks from any bidders until a federal judge in Washington decides whether the auction of wild parcels was legal.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina has promised to rule by Jan. 19.

Mr. DeChristopher has said he expects to be charged for making false bids. But one of his lawyers said Friday that with the money, Mr. DeChristopher is following the lead of environmental groups that legitimately acquire grazing leases on public lands to retire them.

BLM criminal investigators have referred a complaint about Mr. DeChristopher’s bidding to U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman in Salt Lake City.

Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for Mr. Tolman, refused comment Friday on whether Mr. DeChristopher could avoid prosecution by offering some money for his leases.

Federal prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek charges. When Mr. DeChristopher registered as a bidder, he had to sign a statement making himself liable for fraud charges for any “false representations” at the auction.

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