LAS VEGAS (AP) — A teen who was accused of stockpiling weapons, heading a militia group and talking about a mass casualty attack on the Las Vegas Strip has pleaded guilty to a federal bomb charge in an arrangement that his lawyer hoped could get him freed from jail for time already served.
Steven Matthew Fernandes, 19, entered his plea Monday in Las Vegas to possession of an unregistered firearm and admitted he possessed unregistered explosives, U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden said.
Fernandes could face 10 years in prison at sentencing Dec. 18, but defense attorney Crystal Eller said federal sentencing guidelines allow for a minimum 15-month sentence.
Eller said she’ll seek the minimum and credit for time Fernandes has served behind bars since his Sept. 13, 2012, arrest as he drove to work at a RadioShack with a loaded shotgun and ammunition in his car.
“There was no evidence he ever intended to hurt anyone,” Eller told The Associated Press.
The defense attorney noted that it would have been difficult to argue a case before jurors aware of a mass shooting that left 13 dead at a Navy facility in Washington, D.C., and other high-profile shootings since Fernandes was indicted almost a year ago on federal charges of possession of unregistered firearms, making firearms in violation of the National Firearms Act and transporting explosive materials.
Fernandes allegedly bragged to an FBI informer that he could attack the Las Vegas Strip and kill more than the 12 people who died in a July 2012 shooting in a theater in Aurora, Colo.
He was in jail in December, when 20 students and six adults were killed in shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
“We didn’t want to go to trial in this environment of fear,” Eller said.
According to his plea agreement, Fernandes possessed explosive parts and devices that weren’t registered with the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record. The government alleged that Fernandes also transported explosive materials in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, and detonated devices in the Arizona desert.
Bogden said FBI agents seized firearms, explosive devices and noxious substances including napalm, ammonium and sodium sulfate and sulfur at Fernandes’ home. Agents also confiscated two inert hand grenades, five rifles, four handguns, thousands of rounds of ammunition and instructive materials for making explosive devices, the prosecutor said.
Eller said only two guns belonged to Fernandes, and the napalm was used as a fire-starter during camping trips. She said other guns belonged to family members.
Federal officials and his lawyer said Fernandes described himself as commander of a Nevada militia that was an urban survivalist unit with six or seven members.
Eller described the group as a bunch of friends “playing Army” and posting “exaggerations and empty boasts” on the Internet.
The defense attorney earlier acknowledged that Fernandes was friends with Jake Benton Howell, a Utah college student who was arrested Dec. 21 with an unloaded assault rifle, ammunition, a 16-inch bayonet and three large survival-style knives in his car as he arrived at a Las Vegas high school that both he and Fernandes had attended.
Howell later pleaded guilty to possession of a dangerous weapon on school property, a misdemeanor that could have gotten him up to a year in jail. He was sentenced in June to three years of probation.
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