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Fatali Pleads Guilty to All Charges

Bert Nelson , Dec 10, 2001; 11:57 p.m.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune see URL below http://www.sltribune.com/2001/dec/12082001/utah/156120.htm

Photographer Fatali Pleads Guilty in Fires Saturday, December 8, 2001

BY MICHAEL VIGH THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Springdale nature photographer Michael Fatali pleaded guilty Friday to seven federal misdemeanors for starting fires in two Utah national parks, including a blaze that marred sandstone underneath Delicate Arch -- the state icon that graces some license plates.

Fatali, who started the fires to achieve dramatic lighting effects during photo shoots, faces up to 6 months in federal prison and a $5,000 fine on each count when he is sentenced in February. Fatali has agreed to pay restitution to the National Park Service, a sum that prosecutors estimate will be $16,000.

Fatali lit the fires with Duraflame logs on Sept. 18 and 19, 2000, to demonstrate to amateur photographers "nighttime photographic techniques," he admitted in a statement to prosecutors. The unauthorized fires scorched and discolored sections of sandstone beneath and next to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, prosecutors say.

Fatali also admitted Friday that in August 1997 he set two fires at Canyonlands National Park that also damaged park resources.

Prosecutor Wayne Dance said Fatali's crimes have untold victims. Thousands of tourists visit the parks each year.

"Our national parks are here for the enjoyment of current and future generations," Dance said. "It's a matter that's very serious."

Fatali declined to comment and his attorney, Kristine Rogers, deferred comment until her client is sentenced on Feb. 1, 2001.

In his statement to prosecutors, Fatali said he brought aluminum pans to the shoots to contain the fire. The pans failed, however, and the Duraflame logs burned directly on the sandstone, causing damage directly under and to the west and east of the arch.

Fatali also said some of the sooty, oily residue was tracked onto the sandstone after he stomped on the duraflame logs. Fatali told U.S. Magistrate Samuel Alba he did not have a permit to light any of the fires.

Park visitors reported the damage to rangers the next morning.

Officials were able to remove some of the scorch marks immediately, but remaining scars from the fire have proven difficult for park service employees to eradicate.

On Aug. 12, 1997, Fatali used wood from Canyonlands National Park to build a fire at Horsehoof Arch. The next day, he did the same thing at a slot canyon known as "The Joint Trail."

Fatali, 36, who is known for his stunning images of Utah's desert landscapes, operates a gallery outside Zion National Park in Springdale and a photography school in nearby Rockville.

Photographer admits fire role

By Angie Welling Deseret News staff writer Friday, December 7, 2001

The nature photographer accused of setting fires at Delicate Arch last year pleaded guilty Friday in federal court. Michael Fatali, Springdale, also pleaded guilty to setting two fires in Canyonlands National Park in August 1997. The 36-year-old professional photographer faces up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine for each of the seven misdemeanor counts. Fatali also agreed to pay full restitution to the National Park Service for damage caused by the fires. Restoration is estimated at more than $16,000. On Sept. 18, 2000, Fatali led a group of amateur photographers to Delicate Arch to photograph the famous four-story sandstone arch, which is the backdrop of some Utah license plates. At his direction, Fatali's assistant and others from the group set two fires, one directly under the arch and another to the east of the structure. Aluminum baking pans brought along to contain the fire failed, and the flames scorched and discolored the sandstone. Fatali tried to stomp out the fires, but one was still burning when the group left the area.

Park visitors reported the damage to rangers the next morning. Officials were able to remove some of the scorch marks immediately, but remaining scars from the fire could not be removed because an oily or waxy stain had penetrated the rock. Fatali on Friday also admitted to starting two fires in Canyonlands National Park, the first on Aug. 12, 1997, at Horsehoof Arch and again on Aug. 13, 1997, at the Joint Trails Needles District. He used wood from within the park to start the two fires, he said. According to prosecutors, in November 2000 Fatali sent an e-mail message to members of the photography community apologizing for what happened, saying he "seriously regretted" the incident. "I simply screwed up," the message said. Defense attorney Kristine Rogers declined to comment Friday, saying Fatali would make a statement after his Feb. 1, 2002, sentencing hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Dance said Fatali fully acknowledged his criminal conduct by pleading guilty to all seven counts as charged. "It's a matter that's very serious," Dance said. "All of our national parks are for the enjoyment of future generations."

Source: Deseret News at the URL below http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,355010921,00.html?

Responses

Shun Cheung , Dec 11, 2001; 08:18 a.m.

Response to Fatali pleads GUILTY to all charges

Thanks for the detailed report. I think the seriousness of the Fatali case is very different from the recent Weldon Lee "busted" case, although both incidents didn't make us nature photographers look good. However, I think we have already spent a lot of bandwidth on the Fatali case in the last year. After a bunch of us threw rocks at Weldon Lee, I sure hope that we can take a break. :-)

Anthony Williams , Dec 11, 2001; 02:00 p.m.

Response to Fatali pleads GUILTY to all charges

Sad, sad commentary on some folks who apparently view public lands as their own domain. It surely will make it harder on the rest of us. Of course I'm convinced Mr. Fatali made a nice profit on his workshops and images using areas that cost him nothing to access.

XX XX , Dec 11, 2001; 06:15 p.m.

Response to Fatali pleads GUILTY to all charges

maybe if Fatali had been "busted" earlier for minor offenses like the ones Lee was charged for, he never would have gotten this far.

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