Tim DeChristopher not target of discrimination, judge rules

Published: Tuesday, March 16 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

Tim DeChristopher, an environmental activist, leaves the Federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City, September 22, 2009, with his lawyer Ron Yengich following a motion hearing.

Keith Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge ruled Monday that the government is not selectively prosecuting Tim DeChristopher for allegedly making and winning bids he never intended to pay for during a federal auction.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson said there is "no support for further discovery" since the defense failed to show any substantial evidence that DeChristopher was personally discriminated against, warranting his claim of selective prosecution.

DeChristopher, who sat before a courtroom packed with supporters Monday, was indicted last year on charges of providing a false statement and violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act for his actions during an auction held by the Bureau of Land Management in 2008. DeChristopher is accused of bidding on and winning 14 parcels of land worth $1.7 million that he never intended to pay for.

DeChristopher's attorney, Ron Yengich, asked prosecutors to turn over all information they have on other people who failed to follow through on bids on oil and gas leases.

"We're simply asking that they give us what they have," Yengich said, "not that they do research for us."

But Benson said he was under the impression that the government had provided all of the information it had on such individuals and had done so early on. Prosecutors said Monday there is no one whose actions compare with DeChristopher's.

"No one else set out to disrupt a federal auction or represented themselves as a bona fide bidder. Only DeChristopher threw an entire auction in disarray," said prosecutor Scott Romney.

He also refuted Yengich's argument that DeChristopher was treated differently than others in similar situations because his motive was deemed "unpure" by the government.

"DeChristopher was not discriminated against because of who he is, what he believes in or what company he keeps," Romney said. "DeChristopher was prosecuted because he committed a crime."

Benson said he did not see a basis for the selective prosecution claim, pointing out that DeChristopher was one of only two bidders identified as "bad-faith bidders" who intentionally threw off the auction. The other was a man in New Mexico, and Benson said DeChristopher's crime was far different, involving 11 more parcels of land, 12 times the number of acres and two times the amount of money.

DeChristopher told the Deseret News he believes the judge's decision will inhibit his right to a fair trial, because he believes the jury will not have "all the information."

"My intention, as it always has been, is to get all the information in front of a jury, and this is one more piece of information not going before a jury," he said, "and that's disturbing."

Yengich said he believes there are "political machinations" behind DeChristopher's prosecution. DeChristopher said this suspicion arose from the fact that he first learned about his indictment from an oil-industry lobbyist in D.C.

"They knew before I knew, before the media knew. … I can't think of an appropriate reason for the oil industry to play a role in my prosecution," he said.

DeChristopher was to go to trial March 15, but the trial was postponed to allow for Monday's hearing. Benson requested that a new trial date be set.

e-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS