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Trial near end for Utah man accused of fake bids

By Chi-chi Zhang

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 3 2011 2:35 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Tim DeChristopher says he was trying to make a statement against auctioning oil and gas drilling leases when he cast numerous bids during a federal auction.

The 29-year-old man's trial on charges of hijacking bids during the auctioning of land near two national parks is expected to wrap up on Thursday with lawyers making closing arguments to a jury of eight men and four women.

He has pleaded not guilty, but doesn't dispute the facts of the case. He said he expects to be convicted of placing fake bids on more than a dozen leases near Utah's Arches and Canyonlands national parks to try to run up prices.

But DeChristopher testified on Wednesday that he meant no harm to anyone, including the auction agency, the federal Bureau of Land Management.

He said he did not arrive at the auction with the intent to become a bidder, but decided it was the only way to enter the auction and make a strong statement against the auctioning of leases.

Fellow environmentalists who range from celebrities to activists have made DeChristopher a folk hero of their movement, insisting that DeChristopher was standing up to a federal agency that violated environmental laws by holding the auction.

Federal prosecutors have called him a saboteur, saying that DeChristopher knowingly placed the bids at the 2008 auction without any intention of paying.

The prosecutors say DeChristopher is the only person ever charged with failing to make good on bids at a lease auction of public lands in Utah. They have offered plea deals over the past two years, but he opted to go to trial.

The former wilderness guide faces up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines if convicted on charges of interfering with and making false representations at a government auction.

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