PHOENIX (AP) _ A man was sentenced Monday to 18 years in prison for torching seven luxury homes under construction as he tried to stop development near protected desert areas.

U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton also ordered Mark Sands to pay $2.8 million in restitution.

Sands cried as he apologized to his family and victims who attended his sentencing hearing.

``There is no environmental or religious excuse for terrorism of any kind,'' he said.

Sands pleaded guilty in November to eight counts of extortion and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. Arson charges that were part of an original indictment were dismissed.

He also admitted writing letters to the media and property owners warning that the fires would continue as long as people continued to build next to the protected land in Phoenix and Scottsdale. One note, found April 29 said, ``You build, we burn again.''

Sands was arrested June 14 on a federal indictment accusing him of setting eight fires in seven homes between April 2000 and January 2001.

Sands became a suspect last April after police said he was caught using a red marker on a sign hanging on a home under construction.

Police had been monitoring the property since March, when leaflets reading, ``Thou shalt not desecrate God's creation,'' were found there. The notes were signed CSP, or Coalition to Save the Preserve.