Published Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 | 10:55 a.m.
Updated Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 | 1:09 p.m.
A 19-year-old who had been accused of stockpiling weapons, forming a militia group and talking about a mass casualty attack on the Las Vegas Strip was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in federal prison and three years of closely supervised release.
With time already served since his arrest in September 2012, Steven Matthew Fernandes could be free by March.
Fernandes declined to speak before U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon sentenced him.
Fernandes had described himself as commander of a Nevada urban survivalist militia unit with six or seven members, according to court documents. He was accused of telling an FBI informant 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.
"Fortunately, nobody got hurt," the judge said before sentencing Fernandes for his guilty plea to possession of an unregistered firearm and an admission that he possessed unregistered explosives.
Gordon said he believed Fernandes endangered himself, his mother and his younger half-sisters at a home where investigators found gunpowder, homemade napalm and a cache of ammunition and weapons. Fernandes was accused of assembling explosive devices that he detonated in the Arizona desert.
Fernandes nodded when Gordon told him he won't be able to possess weapons or explosives, can't use drugs or alcohol, and has to undergo mental health treatment.
Fernandes, who once wanted to join the U.S. Marines, could have faced up to 10 years in prison. A federal presentence report set a range of 18 to 24 months.
Defense attorney Crystal Eller sought immediate release, telling the judge that Fernandes had no prior criminal record and was now free from the "abuse, brainwashing and destructive thinking" he had been exposed to before his arrest. She blamed leaders of a weapons and military tactics training school in southern Utah called DOA Tactical.
Dead-On Accuracy Tactical owner Brent Roberts in St. George, Utah, called the blame unfair.
"We don't do any type of brainwashing. We do not teach anything that is illegal," said Roberts, who said he has been in business for about 10 years and teaches National Rifle Association instructors.
"Anything that Steven was doing with bomb making had nothing to do with us," he said.
Roberts said he cut ties to Fernandes after the teen failed a weekend NRA certification class in March 2012, amid concerns about the way he was acting.
Prosecutor Nicholas Dickinson pointed in court to a psychologist's determination that Fernandes didn't actually plan to carry out a plan to attack the Las Vegas Strip.
Dickinson called the decision to accept a plea before trial difficult, but said the government was satisfied if Fernandes is required to get strict mental health monitoring.
He was arrested Sept. 13, 2012, as he drove to work at a RadioShack with a loaded shotgun and ammunition in his car. He was indicted less than two weeks later on federal charges of possession of unregistered firearms, making firearms in violation of the National Firearms Act and transporting explosive materials.
Those charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement.