A Salt Lake City environmental activist who was given a federal prison sentence last year for fraudulently buying up oil leases at a 2008 auction returned to Salt Lake City on Wednesday after a year behind bars, but he remains a federal inmate.
Timothy DeChristopher's attorney, Patrick Shea, confirmed that his client took a train from Denver to Salt Lake, where a cab waited to take him directly to a halfway house at 1865 W. 2100 South. The federal Bureau of Prisons granted DeChristopher the less restrictive setting to finish out his sentence because of good behavior.
DeChristopher posed as a bidder at an oil and gas lease auction held by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Salt Lake City in December 2008 in order to call attention to environmental harms caused by drilling. He successfully bid nearly $1.8 million on 14 parcels, shutting out other bidders and driving up prices on other leases. When it realized what was happening, the BLM halted the auction.
On the day of the auction, DeChristopher told investigators that he had initially intended to cause a disturbance but then realized the only way to get into the auction room was to pose as a bidder. Once there, he decided the best way to have an impact was to bid on parcels even though he knew he could not pay for them.
A Utah jury convicted DeChristopher in March 2011 of interference and making false statements or representations. He is serving a 24-month sentence and will be on supervised release for three more years after that.
Shea said DeChristopher could begin serving out his sentence through a home supervision arrangement starting in February. If he continues to exhibit good behavior, DeChristopher's sentence could end in April, Shea said.
While at the halfway house, DeChristopher may be able to leave for work if his employment prospects are approved by his supervisors. Shea said his client has a job waiting for him at the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City. He also will be able to accept visitors on weekends and holidays, although anyone who wants to visit will have to be cleared by DeChristopher's supervisors.
Shea said his client is nowhere near having complete freedom yet but said DeChristopher is "relieved."
"You could imagine being under lock-and-key 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Shea said.