SALT LAKE CITY — Five Utah men have been slapped with federal charges for taking part in an ATV protest ride in southwestern Utah earlier this year that the group said was to call attention to the federal government’s overreaching control of public lands.
Federal prosecutors announced Wednesday they have charged the five southern Utah men with misdemeanor conspiracy and illegal use of all-terrain vehicles Wednesday in connection with a ride organized to show displeasure with the federal government.
Prosecutors say the May ride through southwestern Utah’s Recapture Canyon was an illegal protest.
“We respect the fact that the citizens of this state have differing and deeply held views … and recognize that they have the right to express those opinions freely,” said acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen in a statement. “Nevertheless, those rights must be exercised in a lawful manner.”
About 50 people participated in the ride, which came shortly after the BLM had a confrontation with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
Following a similar ATV protest ride in 2009 on a different off-limits trail, the BLM sent the results of an investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah. But federal prosecutors didn’t file any charges.
Christensen said Wednesday the evidence made the difference in the two cases, but didn’t elaborate.
BLM Director Neil Kornze said Wednesday the charges show the importance of historically important areas. Recapture Canyon is home to dwellings, artifacts and burials left behind by Ancestral Puebloans as many as 2,000 years ago before they mysteriously vanished.
“Today’s actions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office underscore the importance of protecting culturally significant areas and holding accountable those who broke the law,” said Kornze in a statement.
The five men charged are: San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, Monte Wells of Monticello, Jay Redd of Santa Clara, Shane Marian of Monticello and Franklin Holliday of Blanding.
Prosecutors say Lyman, 50, proposed the idea of a protest ride through the canyon and promoted it with an article in the Deseret News and on social media. Lyman couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
Lyman did a three-part video interview about the idea with Wells, a 50-year-old blogger who promoted it online, according to charging documents.
Wells said Wednesday he disagreed with the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to close the canyon in 2007.
“That thing was done illegally, they didn’t follow their stuff on it,” said Wells, who denied organizing the protest ride. “The BLM does what the BLM wants to do.”
Prosecutors say Redd, 40, spoke to the crowd in Blanding before the ride, giving them instructions and encouragement. Redd could not immediately be reached Wednesday.
Prosecutors also allege the 33-year-old Marian and 31-year-old Holliday participated in the ride. The charges don’t claim those men had a leadership role in the event.
Holliday said Wednesday he attended the event but didn’t organize it, and was surprised at the charges. Marian couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Christensen said Wednesday the investigation is ongoing, and charges are possible against other people who participated in the event.
No defense attorneys were immediately listed for any of the men.
The five are each facing two counts, one of conspiracy to ride the ATVs and one of riding the vehicles on closed public land. Each carries a potential penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of $100,000.
A first hearing in the case was scheduled for Oct. 17.
Many of the people who rode during the May 10 protest waved American flags and some carried weapons, the San Juan County sheriff told The Associated Press. Lyman said at the time that the ride was a demonstration of federal overreach on public lands.
There were no confrontations or arrests during what was a peaceful protest. The canyon is about 300 miles southeast of Salt Lake City near junction of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, known as the Four Corners.