Image: Tim DeChristopher
Jim Urquhart  /  AP
Tim DeChristopher is surrounded by media as he arrives at the federal courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 7/26/2011 6:52:01 PM ET 2011-07-26T22:52:01

An environmentalist convicted of fraud for submitting phony bids to derail drilling on public land was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison.

Tim DeChristopher, 29, could have faced up to 10 years and a $750,000 fine under the sentencing guidelines. The judge did fine him $10,000.

He admitted to posing as an energy developer in December 2008 for a U.S. government "lease sale" auction in which he ended up offering the winning bids for 22,500 acres of federal land in Utah.

It was soon discovered he had neither the $1.8 million in lease fees nor the intention to consummate the purchase, effectively scuttling about a fourth of the lease sales up for bid that day.

He was found guilty last March after a four-day trial in Salt Lake City.

DeChristopher, who later tried to raise money to pay for the leases, has said he was protesting what he and other environmentalists regard as a virtual government giveaway of public land.

His supporters had hoped the judge would take a lenient path.

"The sentencing officer recommended a minimal prison sentence coupled with probation at most," Flora Bernard, co-director of PeacefulUprising.org, told msnbc.com.

But his support team also noted that prosecutors pushed for a heavy prison sentence.

"The defendant's sentence should effectively communicate that similar acts will have definite consequences," the prosecutors argued in a court filing. "To be sure, a federal prison term here will deter others from entering a path of criminal behavior."

DeChristopher left the courthouse last March greeted by cheers and hugs from dozens of supporters who kept a vigil during the trial. They returned on Tuesday to again show their support.

His support team said DeChristopher probably would not appeal the sentence since doing so could reopen the case and that he was ready to serve the time to showcase his environmental principles.

He'll also have something to keep him busy: the environmental news website grist.org says he'll be a regular contributor.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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