Colorado man sentenced in Nevada power plant fire initially described as terror attack

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In this April 4, 2017, file photo, fountains erupt along the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas.

By Ken Ritter/AP

A Colorado man was sentenced Wednesday to prison in Nevada following his arrest last January for setting his car afire at a remote facility in what authorities initially characterized as a terror attack on the electric system serving several Las Vegas Strip casinos.

Mohammed Reza Mesmarian, 35, was sentenced to two to 10 years following his plea in November to guilty but mentally ill on charges of felony arson and property destruction in the incident at a remote desert solar array about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of downtown Las Vegas.

“This was not so much an act of terrorism as a person going through personal issues during COVID, the loss of a marriage and his business,” Mesmarian's attorney, Jeffrey Nicholson, told The Associated Press after sentencing. Nicholson said he sought probation, but he called Clark County District Court Judge Ronald Israel's sentence “a good and fair decision.”

Mesmarian received credit for nearly a year already served in custody and could be paroled in early 2024.

Mesmarian, a dentist, is from Aurora, Colorado, where state records showed he faced Dental Board discipline and his license to practice was restricted in July 2022. Records also showed that Mesmarian filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in October 2022. Nicholson said Wednesday he didn't immediately know the status of his client's dental license.

Mesmarian initially faced charges including terrorism, arson, destruction of property and escape. He spent months in custody during court proceedings that eventually determined he was competent to stand trial.

Police reported that no one was injured in the Jan. 4 fire, which wasn't immediately detected. Mesmaian was found and arrested a day later at a campground at Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir behind Hoover Dam east of Las Vegas.

Investigators said they learned that Mesmarian had rammed his car through a fence, crashed it against a transformer, set it ablaze and sat in a chair watching flames for about 15 minutes before walking away.

The incident in Nevada came just days after two men were arrested and charged with vandalizing electrical substations in Washington state and a month after federal regulators ordered a review of security standards following shootings that damaged two electric substations in North Carolina.

The Las Vegas-area facility, known as the Mega Solar Array, is operated by Chicago-based Invenergy. It serves several MGM Resorts International properties including Bellagio, MGM Grand, Aria and Park MGM. The resort operator said it switched to the statewide electric grid, and there was no effect at the casino resorts. Officials said the power facility returned to service within days.