Trial begins in Utah oil-gas lease auction case

By Jennifer Dobner

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Feb. 28 2011 3:41 p.m. MST

Environmental activist Hillary Hase marches in downtown Salt Lake City Monday, Feb. 28, 2011. Hundreds of demonstrators showed up to march and support Tim DeChristopher on the opening day of his federal trial on charges of bidding up prices at an auction of land leases that he couldn't pay for.

Jim Urquhart, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — Jury selection is under way in the trial of a Utah environmental activist who's charged with sabotaging a 2008 federal oil-and-gas auction by buying up $1.7 million of leases in an act of civil disobedience.

Tim DeChristopher has pleaded not guilty to felony counts of interfering with and making false representations at a government auction. If convicted, the 29-year-old faces up to 10 years in federal prison and $750,000 in fines.

DeChristopher has become a folk hero among some environmentalists because of his effort to thwart drilling near Utah's national parks.

Hundreds of people marched to Salt Lake City's federal courthouse Monday morning before about 70 potential jurors filled out pre-trial questionnaires.

Attorneys are interviewing the 50 remaining people individually Monday afternoon.

Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday.

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