‘Mr. Lyman’s accusations are misplaced’: U.S. attorney’s office responds to Utah lawmaker’s claims of collusion and defamation

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Phil Lyman, a San Juan County commissioner is tired of waiting for the Bureau of Land Management to determine whether to allow ATVs back into Recapture Canyon, April 26, 2014, and has spearheaded a May 10, 2014 ATV ride throughout the canyon to protest the BLMÕs lack of leadership and decision making. While BLMÕs Utah office would not comment on LymanÕs protest ride, a spokeswoman said the agency is still working on an environmental assessment analyzing potential impacts. The BLM expects to release it for public review and comment summer 2014.

In a recent court filing objecting to a proposed increase to his monthly restitution payments and accusing federal prosecutors and the news media of collusion and defamation, Blanding Republican Rep. Phil Lyman acknowledged that his economic circumstances had changed since voters elected him to the Utah Legislature.

That means the court has discretion to adjust Lyman’s court-ordered payments “to serve the interests of justice,” U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber and Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Moon argued Thursday in a response to Lyman’s memo.

“Mr. Lyman does not argue in his Response that he lacks the resources to pay $500 per month towards restitution,” they wrote, “nor does he provide any evidence to support such a claim.”

The back-and-forth follows a request by the U.S. attorney’s office that Lyman be ordered to increase his monthly payments from $100 to $500 toward some $96,000 in outstanding restitution stemming from his misdemeanor conviction in 2015 for leading a protest ride on ATVs through Utah’s Recapture Canyon.

Lyman objected to the proposed increase, arguing he has experienced a pay cut since leaving his San Juan County Commission seat and being elected to the Utah House of Representatives.

And on Friday, Lyman told The Tribune that anyone with a sense of justice “should be appalled” by the actions of the U.S. attorney’s office.

“It’s coming from the same Allison Moon who is basically carrying water for the environmentalist crowd and trying to defame and disparage and embarrass and do anything she can to make public anything that she can make public,” he said of Thursday’s filing. “I think it’s disgusting.”

In their response, federal prosecutors acknowledged they had “overlooked” the loss of Lyman’s county income in requesting that his monthly payment be increased. But they downplayed that oversight, while estimating that Lyman holds more than $200,000 in commercial real estate equity and, following a redacted portion of the filing, that he spends nearly three times the amount of necessary life expenses under IRS standards.

A redacted exhibit included with the filing suggests the U.S. attorney’s office estimates Lyman’s monthly expenses to be in excess of $12,000.

“And even with his allegedly decreased income,” they wrote, “Mr. Lyman can afford to pay $500 per month towards restitution.”

Lyman declined Friday to comment on the accuracy of those estimates or the value of his commercial holdings and monthly spending.

“That’s none of their business,” he said. “It’s certainly none of yours.”

In his March court memorandum objecting to the increased payments, Lyman also included pointed accusations that his underlying conviction was unjust, and that the original judge who presided over his case, federal prosecutors and Utah media outlets had conspired against him.

“It is troubling to me that certain people in the U.S. attorney’s office feel compelled to continually harass my name and reputation,” Lyman wrote in March. “I have learned from my own case as well as the constant barrage of distasteful news stories in the mainstream media that this sort of denigration is the modus operandi of many in positions of power.”

In their response Thursday, Huber and Moon declined to addressed Lyman’s accusations, saying that his conviction and restitution order had already been properly adjudicated.

“As to the United States’ motive,” they wrote, “the United States is simply seeking to collect a debt, and Mr. Lyman’s accusations are misplaced.”

A lengthy footnote in the prosecutors response dismisses Lyman’s claims of politically-motivated malice, including the suggestion by Lyman that the presence of a media camera crew in Blanding on the same day as a visit by a representative of the U.S. attorney’s office was evidence of a premeditated “smear campaign.”

“Because these meritless arguments are no substitute for actual evidence of Mr. Lyman’s financial condition,” prosecutors wrote, “he has failed to carry his burden of proof and should be ordered to pay at least $500 per month towards restitution.”

But on Friday, Lyman reiterated his accusation that the U.S. attorney’s office colluded with members of the Utah news media, and suggested The Tribune had coordinated with prosecutors in producing this article. A Tribune reporter responded that no such coordination took place, and that the U.S. attorney’s response had not been seen by Tribune staff until the day after its court filing, but Lyman rejected that explanation.

Lyman, who is representing himself in the proceedings surrounding his restitution payments, said he planned to answer the prosecutors’ response with additional memoranda.

“It is adversarial,” he said, “and I plan to respond in kind.”

The memos are filed in the court of Judge David Nuffer, who sentenced Lyman to 10 days in jail, three years probation and restitution in the conspiracy and trespassing case.