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Man pleads guilty but mentally ill to damaging power facility

A man accused of attacking a solar power station near Las Vegas in January has pleaded guilty but mentally ill to two felonies.

Mohammed Mesmarian, 35, was arrested after breaking into the MGM Mega Solar Array, in the 10500 block of U.S. Highway 93, about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Authorities said Mesmarian broke into the facility by driving a Toyota Camry through a fence, and later set the car on fire near the facility’s main transformer.

Mesmarian initially faced six charges, including a felony count of committing an act of terrorism. He pleaded guilty but mentally ill on Monday to felony counts of second-degree arson and malicious destruction of property, court records show.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Nicholson said he now has the burden of establishing Mesmarian is mentally ill for the purposes of a sentencing hearing. Mesmarian had previously undergone a competency evaluation, and was found competent to stand trial in July, court records show.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Dickerson said the plea will allow a judge to order treatment for Mesmarian if the judge rules that he’s mentally ill and sentences him to prison.

“It doesn’t change the penalty of the crime, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s guilty of the crime,” Dickerson said. “All it does is provide him the opportunity to have treatment while he’s serving his punishment.”

Prosecutors will be able to argue for Mesmarian to be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for the two charges.

Nicholson said Wednesday that Mesmarian, who is a dentist from Colorado, did not intend to launch a terrorist-style attack at the power station, but that the attack was fueled by troubles in his personal life.

“He was going through a divorce, took his wife’s car, and crashed it through that fence,” Nicholson said.

Records show that Mesmarian’s Colorado dental license was restricted in November 2021, after the licensing board received a complaint about potentially unsanitary conditions at his dental practice.

After his arrest, Mesmarian told police that he was not trying to sabotage the facility and that he set the vehicle on fire “for the big message, large picture, greater good” and explained that “the greater good was clean energy,” an officer wrote in his arrest report.

The officer who authored the report noted that Mesmarian’s “true motivations” were unclear but that there had been multiple recent attacks on critical infrastructure across the U.S., coinciding with ”propaganda circulating online.”

Mesmarian was arrested Jan. 5 at the Boulder Beach campground in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Police found multiple firearms and a notebook with the word “solar” written on the first page at the campsite.

A sentencing hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 18.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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