SALT LAKE CITY --
Prosecutors filed federal charges Wednesday against five men who took part in an illegal ATV ride in a San Juan county canyon May 10th.
Motorized vehicles, including ATVs, were outlawed in Recapture Canyon. The Bureau of Land Management says it's meant to preserve archeological resources but protestors believe they have a constitutional right to use their ATVs on federal public lands.
More than 50 people took part in the ride four months ago but the U.S. Attorney zeroed in on five men they say organized, advertised and spoke at the rally, encouraging illegal activity.
"Obviously the message is if you want to protest a BLM decision you have the ability to do that but you have to do that lawfully," said acting U.S. Attorney Carlie Christensen
San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman organized the event and is among the five defendants, each facing two misdemeanor charges for conspiracy and illegal using off-road vehicles. Lyman and his supporters share Cliven Bundy's view - that the federal government has overstepped its reach on public lands. The day before the ride Lyman told FOX 13 he knew there could be consequences.
"They said don't do it or we'll cite you with criminal and civil penalties," Lyman said on May 9th.
Now, after being charged Thursday, Lyman isn't commenting. Neither are the other defendants and the BLM declined on-camera interviews but director Neil Kornze said in a statement, "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."
Prosecutors say the illegal ride damaged some archeological resources.
"It's my understanding there weren't any structures damaged but there were other types of archeological artifacts that were," Christensen said.
Prosecutors plan to seek restitution, plus up to 100-thousand dollars in fines and jail time for each defendant, if they're convicted.
Former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman says if the defendants are convicted, fines are more likely than jail time, unless there are aggravating factors such as past criminal behavior. Tolman says the government is sending a message but he doesn't think everyone will sympathize with it.
"(There are) individuals, regular law abiding citizens that don't wanna see these folks prosecuted and on the other side, others may say nobody is above the law," Tolman said.
Prosecutors say plain clothes BLM agents who were on scene May 10 documented and videotaped the illegal activity. That, plus social media posts dating back to February will be part of the evidence in the federal case. All five defendants have been ordered to appear in federal court in Salt Lake City October 17th.