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State Rep. Phil Lyman now says he wants to pay restitution for ATV protest ride in closed canyon

Government prosecutors asked federal judge to consider holding Lyman in contempt for failing to provide tax returns

SHARE State Rep. Phil Lyman now says he wants to pay restitution for ATV protest ride in closed canyon

Protesters ride on recreational trail in Recapture Canyon in an event organized by San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman on Saturday, May 10, 2014, in San Juan County.

Alan Neves, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After arguing with government prosecutors for nearly a year over his restitution payments related to an illegal ATV ride in an archaeologically sensitive southeastern Utah canyon, state Rep. Phil Lyman told a federal judge Friday he wants to pay in full.

The offer came during a virtual hearing called because the Blanding Republican missed two court-ordered deadlines to provide the court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office with his 2017, 2018 and 2019 tax returns.

Asked via text message after the hearing why he’s offering to pay off the nearly $90,000 he still owes, Lyman replied, “To be done with this ridiculous nonsense.”

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer gave Lyman, who was represented Friday by fellow GOP lawmaker Sen. Dan McCay, until Oct. 16 at noon to pay in full.

Assistant U.S. attorney Allison Moon told the judge Lyman said several years ago that he’d like to pay in full but didn’t follow through. She said she “feels a little bit doubtful” it will happen, but saw no harm in continuing the hearing for 30 days as McCay requested.

“It made my job a lot easier,” Nuffer said.

Government prosecutors asked Nuffer to consider holding Lyman in contempt for disregarding court orders to turn over his tax returns in an ongoing legal fight over his illegal ATV ride. Nuffer wrote in court documents that U.S. marshals would be prepared to take Lyman into custody if necessary at an in-person hearing next month.

In 2015, a jury convicted Lyman of misdemeanor trespassing for an ATV ride he led through Recapture Canyon, which the Bureau of Land Management had closed to off-road vehicles, to protest federal land management policies. He spent 10 days in jail. Nuffer also ordered him to pay $95,955 in restitution to the BLM.

Lyman has consistently paid the required $100 a month, but federal prosecutors tried to up the monthly amount to $500 after he was elected to the Utah Legislature in 2018, arguing he could afford to pay more.

A former San Juan County commissioner, Lyman contended he was actually making less without the county salary. Nuffer agreed and rejected the government’s attempt to raise the payment, but ordered Lyman to turn over the tax returns by May 1.

Nuffer moved the deadline to Aug. 1 after the IRS extended the tax filing period for 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lyman also failed to make that date.

Lyman sent his 2017 and 2018 tax returns to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in late August with a three-line letter saying they were being submitted “under duress” and that they are confidential and only Nuffer was to read them. The office forwarded them to the judge.

Nuffer said in court Friday that the returns appeared incomplete. He also took issue with McCay, R-Riverton, asking whether government prosecutors needed to review them, because they’re sensitive and Lyman wants to keep them private.

“We don’t do one-sided justice in the United States, so how in the world could that be appropriate, Mr. McCay?” Nuffer said.

Lyman, who has represented himself in an appeal of his conviction, also included a letter to Nuffer with the two tax returns he sent to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In it he calls the court proceedings in his case a “sham” and his conviction “bogus.” He wrote that he knows the justice system to be “little more than a tool in the hands of disingenuous people” like Nuffer, Moon, U.S. Attorney John Huber and others.

Lyman ended the letter saying, “Enjoy reading my tax returns.”