U.S. attorneys demand court appearance after Rep. Phil Lyman fails to hand over tax records

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, settles in for another legislative session at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 26, 2020.

Utah Rep. Phil Lyman has ignored a federal order to hand over his tax returns, and prosecutors are asking a judge to order him to appear in court.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney John Huber and Assistant Attorney Allison J.P. Moon filed a motion stating that Lyman did not turn over the required documents by a May 1 deadline and has not responded to correspondence. The attorneys asked a federal judge to compel Lyman to explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt.

The tax returns review relates to a 2015 misdemeanor conviction against Lyman ordering him to pay $95,955.61 in damages. The lawmaker was the leader of a 2014 protest where he led a group of about 50 ATV riders down Recapture Canyon near Blanding. The Bureau of Land Management had closed the canyon to vehicle traffic to protect ancient American Indian artifacts.

Prosecutors want to see Lyman’s tax records to determine whether his restitution payments are too low.

“Allison Moon and John Huber are abusing their power,” Lyman, a certified public accountant, said. “I’m not planning on turning over tax returns to people who are pushing an agenda like the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and SUWA [Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance] which is who they’re working with and working for.”

Huber was appointed as U.S. attorney for Utah by President Barack Obama in 2015. He was renominated by President Donald Trump in 2017 and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Moon works in the U.S. Attorney’s Financial Litigation Unit. The Salt Lake Tribune reviewed hundreds of the federal cases that include her as an attorney, which mostly involve wire fraud, mail tampering, bank robberies, theft of federal property, money laundering and student loan defaults. Many cases involve food stamp scams. She does not appear to specialize in public lands law and only became a prosecutor in Lyman’s Recapture Canyon case to collect the restitution.

Nevertheless, Lyman charged: “Her agenda is wilderness and shutting down the West.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office responded to The Tribune’s calls by saying it would not comment on the ongoing matter. A spokesperson confirmed that Moon’s role is to follow-up on restitution orders and issues as well as oversee other financial aspects of federal cases.

Lyman has made $100 monthly payments to the federal government since the 2015 ruling, but the low amount seems to be the result of a fluke.

When the court issued its 2015 judgment, it found Lyman’s co-defendant, Monte Jerome Wells, couldn’t afford the initial order to pay $500 monthly. As such, the court lowered payments for both Wells and Lyman to $100.

In 2017, the United States Attorney’s Office Financial Litigation Unit asked Lyman to pay more. In emails to Moon from November to December 2017, Lyman struck a more cordial tone. He wrote that he “would very much like” to pay off the $96,000 owed. He said he was working with an agent to sell off all his property. “I am hopeful they will generate enough to pay” the debt, he said.

According to court documents, the properties were never listed.

When Lyman left the San Juan County Commission after his election to the Utah House in 2018, prosecutors used it as an opportunity to again argue that he should pay more.

In a court motion, Huber and Moon claimed that Lyman’s $1,023.75 monthly salary from serving in the Legislature meant his income had increased and that his payment should change to $500 per month. The attorneys noted that under Lyman’s current payment plan just over a quarter of his debt would be paid by April 2036 when the judgment expires.

Lyman countered that resigning from his full-time county commission post meant he had lost $25,000 in annual compensation. State lawmakers work part-time.

In addition to Lyman’s stipend from his service at the Utah House, he owns an accounting firm, an investment group and a financial advisory group according to a state disclosure form. He receives compensation from wages, rental income, business services client income and S-corp distributions.

U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer ruled in October 2019 that Lyman’s $100 payments could continue, but ordered him to provide tax returns for 2017 to 2019 by May 1, 2020, so the government can evaluate his financial circumstances.

May came and went, and Lyman failed to submit the returns. In July, Moon sent Lyman a reminder email. She also acknowledged that the IRS had extended its tax filing deadline in light of the pandemic, and that she, too, would grant him an extension until August 1.

That deadline also passed with no response from Lyman. On Aug. 10, Moon sent an email and letter demanding the returns, saying that “the United States is prepared to seek enforcement ... through contempt proceedings if necessary.”

The judge has yet to respond to Huber and Moon’s latest demands that Lyman appear in court.

Asked why he complied with the court-ordered restitution payments but not the court’s ruling that he turn over tax documents, Lyman told The Tribune “It’s none of their business.”