A Las Vegas man was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for setting fire to a sports center for autistic children.
“This was a very dangerous offense,” U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said before imposing the penalty.
Samuel Powers, 24, pleaded guilty in July to one count of arson and one count of possession of unregistered firearms, specifically Molotov cocktails.
Navarro followed the terms of a binding plea agreement when she imposed the sentence, which included an order to pay about $79,000 in restitution.
The judge told Powers he was “actually quite lucky” prosecutors offered him the deal, because he faced the possibility of a much longer prison term without it.
“Ten years sounds like a lot, but in the grand scheme of things, is very reasonable,” the judge said.
Powers admitted he went to Sport-Social, near Warm Springs Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, on April 15 and used gasoline and Molotov cocktails to set multiple fires inside the establishment.
“When the defendant set the fires, he knew or had cause to believe that human beings were inside a neighboring business housed in the same warehouse as Sport-Social, and thereby created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury,” according to the plea agreement.
At the time, Powers was employed at the Lovaas Center for Behavioral Intervention, another center that focuses on those with special needs.
“I can’t say it enough: Thank goodness none of the individuals in those businesses were physically harmed,” Navarro said.
Wearing a red inmate uniform with the word “detainee” printed on the back, the clean-cut defendant stood before the judge and said no words could adequately express his “regret and shame and sorrow.”
He said he was under the influence of an “excessive” amount of drugs at the time, but he also acknowledged he had “willingly intoxicated” himself.
Defense attorney William Terry said his client comes from a large, supportive family. Several of Powers’ relatives attended the sentencing hearing.
“They are there for him,” Terry said.
Navarro said letters she received from the defendant’s relatives showed he had been actively involved in their lives. The judge said she understands his family loves him unconditionally.
But Navarro noted that Powers also has a history of drug use and a 2012 conviction for disorderly conduct. The prior conviction stemmed from an incident in which he was shooting a rifle in the dark at a Summerlin park.
Navarro also said the arson “was a pretty sophisticated operation” that involved extensive planning.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Brown described the defendant as highly intelligent and said he has a college education.
According to Brown’s sentencing memorandum, the arson was “motivated by erroneous beliefs involving a nonexistent romantic relationship between the defendant’s former girlfriend” and the owner of Sport-Social.
Witnesses saw Powers leaving the building while pushing his vehicle. He was seen with a red five-gallon gasoline container.
Powers has said he was pushing his car because his keys were lost inside the facility.
The fires shut down the building for a week. Authorities said the building had effective sprinkler systems.
Probation officials will supervise Powers for three years after his release from prison. As part of his plea agreement, he waived some of his appellate rights.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-384-8710. Follow @CarriGeer on Twitter.