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Judge denies feds’ attempt to up Utah lawmaker’s restitution payments

SHARE Judge denies feds’ attempt to up Utah lawmaker’s restitution payments
In this Jan. 28, 2019, photo, Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, is shown on the floor floor, at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, is shown on the House floor at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City on Jan. 28, 2019.

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A former San Juan County commissioner won’t have to quintuple his restitution payments for damage to an archaeologically sensitive southeastern Utah canyon during an illegal ATV protest ride.

A federal judge Monday rejected the government’s attempt to force Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, to up his court-ordered monthly payment from $100 to $500. Federal prosecutors argued that since Lyman’s election to the Utah Legislature last year, he could afford to pay more toward the $95,955 he was assessed.

Though U.S. District Judge David Nuffer concluded Lyman’s financial circumstances have worsened rather than improved, he ordered him to turn over his 2017, 2018 and 2019 tax returns to the court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The parties may submit any arguments to adjust the payment no later than next May.

Nuffer said the government wrongly assumed that Lyman retained his seat on the commission after his election to the Utah House and that his $1,023 monthly legislative pay was in addition to his county salary.

Lyman argued that he makes $25,000 a year less since stepping down from the commission to serve in the Legislature.

Prosecutors claimed Lyman’s financial circumstances changed after his election to the House and that he had a “heightened moral obligation” to pay off the debt. Lyman countered that the effort to raise his payments was politically motivated.

Nuffer wrote in his ruling that it doesn’t appear it was Lyman’s intent to avoid paying restitution by being elected to the House and diminishing his annual income. Lyman also didn’t argue that the payment should be decreased due to an inability to pay $100 a month.

“Instead, Mr. Lyman’s opposition focuses more on grievances against the federal government and the news media in a futile attempt to have his restitution overturned in its entirety,” the judge wrote. “That request will not be entertained.”

A jury in 2015 convicted Lyman of trespassing on an ATV ride he led through Recapture Canyon to protest federal land management policies. He spent 10 days in jail.

Court documents in March showed Lyman had a $90,105 balance on his restitution, with the judgment against him expiring in April 2036.

At the current rate, he would pay only another $20,500 before that date, according to court documents. If he were to pay $500 a month, he would have restitution paid in full by 2034.