A 19-year-old man arrested by federal anti-terrorism agents last year pleaded guilty Monday to unlawfully possessing and making explosives at his Las Vegas home.
Steven Matthew Fernandes, who claimed to be the leader of a small Nevada militia, entered a guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Andrew Gordon to one federal count of possession of an unregistered firearm.
The firearm was described in his plea agreement as a “destructive device” or components that could be assembled into a destructive device in violation of the National Firearms Act. The device was concocted in a two-liter Pepsi bottle.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Dickinson told Gordon he would seek a 15-month prison term for Fernandes at his sentencing, which was set for Dec. 18.
Fernandes, a graduate of Clark County’s Northwest Career and Technical Academy, has been in federal custody since his September 2012 arrest.
His attorney, Crystal Eller, said in court she would file a motion seeking to release Fernandes while he awaits sentencing.
Afterwards, Eller said a psychiatric evaluation commissioned by the defense concluded that Fernandes was not a danger to himself or the community.
Striking the plea agreement was a good way to resolve the criminal case, she said.
“In the current political and social climate, it’s risky to take this case to trial,” Eller explained.
In his plea agreement, Fernandes admitted that he stored explosive materials at his home and made destructive devices that weren’t registered with the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record.
He also admitted he transported explosive materials in Nevada, Utah and Arizona and detonated destructive devices in the Arizona desert.
During a Sept. 13, 2012 raid, FBI agents assigned to the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force found the bomb-making materials and devices in Fernandes’ bedroom, with a copy of “The Anarchist’s Cookbook,” according to court documents. The book explains how to manufacture explosives.
Agents also found a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with 10 rounds of ammunition and more than 44 additional rounds of ammunition in his two-door Saturn coupe.
Authorities found an additional five rifles, four handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition in his home.
Fernandes, who lives in Las Vegas with his mother and two younger sisters, made “disturbing statements” to confidential FBI sources about the July 2012 Aurora, Colo., mass shooting and possible acts of domestic terrorism, federal prosecutors said in court papers.
He talked about the Aurora shootings, which killed 12 people and injured 58 others, and bragged, “I’ll beat that record,” the prosecutors said.
Since his arrest, there was another mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. with 26 deaths. And on Monday, still another shooting rampage occurred at the Washington Navy Yard in the nation’s capital, leaving 13 dead, including the gunman.
Prosecutors said last year that a confidential FBI source provided an email from Fernandes in which he described himself as the commanding officer of the 327th Nevada Militia, an urban survivalist unit with six or seven members.
But Eller contended at the time that Fernandes was regarded as a “very responsible and grounded teenager” who was scheduled to ship out with the U.S. Marines two days before his arrest.
“This is someone who sees himself as a fighter for this country, not a terrorist,” Eller said.
His plea Monday follows the June guilty plea of his friend and fellow high school graduate, Jake Howell, to a gross misdemeanor charge of possession of a dangerous weapon on school property.
District Judge Jerome Tao sentenced Howell, 18, to three years probation and ordered him not to possess any weapons and stay away from the Northwest Career and Technical Academy.
Howell, who now lives in Utah, was arrested in December after authorities found an unloaded assault weapon and rounds of ammunition in his car, which was parked on the campus of the high-school.
His car also contained military-style uniforms, camouflage backpacks, a survival knife, shovels, a small stove, food items and water.
At the time, authorities were worried about school threats here in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting deaths.