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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Federal Oil Lease Spoiler Getting Out of Prison

SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - Jailed 18 months for disrupting a federal energy lease auction, eco-activist Tim DeChristopher will serve the rest of his sentence at a Utah halfway house.

Read Courthouse News' Environmental Law Review.

Herlong Federal Prison in California will transfer DeChristopher on Oct. 24 to Salt Lake City, where he will serve another six months.

The 30-year-old former economics major was found guilty in March 2011 of two felonies - making a false statement and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act - in connection with his actions at a 2008 Bureau of Land Management auction.

DeChristopher formally registered for the auction, was given a placard, No. 70, and secured about 22,000 acres away from private oil and gas developers during the final days of the George W. Bush administration.

Since DeChristopher lacked the nearly $1.8 million necessary to pay for 14 drilling sites during the time of the auction, however, the government said he was not a "bona fide bidder."

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled the lease sale improper and canceled it in 2009.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson never let DeChristopher explain his motives during trial. Though DeChristopher faced a maximum of 10 years in jail, the judge assigned a two-year sentence, plus three years' probation and a $10,000 fine.

"This is not a case of Rosa Parks," Benson said in court. "I am at a loss to see how we are going to govern ourselves if it is by personal point of view."

"I'm not saying there isn't a place for civil disobedience, but it can't be the order of the day," the judge added. "Otherwise, we don't have a society, we have an anarchy."

DeChristopher's supporters took to downtown Salt Lake City streets following the decision, and linked wrists with plastic zip ties to block courthouse entrances, light-rail trains and rush-hour traffic. Police arrested 26 people.

DeChristopher served time at a Colorado federal prison before his stint at Herlong.

Last month, a divided panel of the 10th Circuit in Denver rejected his appeal. DeChristopher announced that he would not appeal further.

"Throughout my incarceration I have witnessed the direct personal impacts of a legal system obsessed with technicalities rather than justice," he said in a statement. "The prisons I have been in are filled with nonviolent inmates suffering from mandatory minimums and other policies which are completely detached from the best interests of the individual or society. The injustice on display in my case is truly systemic, and we will put our continuing efforts toward creating a system of genuine justice for all."

Once in Utah, DeChristopher will report to a Unitarian Church for a work-release program.

The climate-activism group Peaceful Uprising is gearing up for its founder's return.

"Obviously his friends, his family, his community is excited to have him back here in a halfway home, but we are going to respect whatever time he needs," the group said on its Facebook page. "We will honor that he is still serving time (until April 2013)."

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