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Sirens & Gavels

Posts tagged: Cyndi Steele

Feds want Ed Steele to serve 50 years

A North Idaho attorney convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his wife should  spend 50 years in prison for his “chillingly calculated” crimes, prosecutors said in recent court filings.

Edgar J. Steele, 65, is to be sentenced Nov. 9 at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene. A jury convicted him of four felonies May 5 after a two-week trial in Boise for paying his handyman, Larry Fairfax, in silver to kill his wife and mother-in-law with a car bomb so he could spend time with a young Ukrainian woman he met online.

 “To plan the murder of an innocent spouse is unthinkably heartless,” federal prosecutors Marc Haws and Traci Whelan wrote in a 13-page sentencing memorandum filed Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court. “To manipulate a financially desperate neighbor to commit the murder with a violent car bomb explosion is depraved.”

Prosecutors compared Steele, a former lawyer to Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and the self-described “attorney for the damned,” to  Raskolnikov, the main character in Fyodor Dostoyevski's novel “Crime and Punishment.”

“In his plotting, Edgar Steele seems modeled on Raskolnikov: too far above the law, and too smart to get caught,” prosecutors wrote.

Steele's wife, Cyndi Steele, (pictured with attorney Wesley Hoyt after the verdict in May) believes he is innocent and a victim of a government conspiracy to silence him.

Fairfax secretly recorded Steele discussing the plot but was arrested after Steele was because Cyndi Steele found a pipe bomb under her car that Fairfax had affixed weeks earlier.

 Fairfax told FBI agents he didn't tell them about the bomb because it was rigged not to work and was no longer attached to the vehicle, but testimony at trial showed otherwise. Fairfax was sentenced in May to 27 months in prison.

Steele's lawyer Robert McAllister was disbarred in Colorado shortly after the trial for ethical violations unrelated to Steele's case, including misusing client money. In a motion for a new trial, McAllister has said he was ineffective as Steele's counsel during trial because he was distracted by his pending disbarment.

The motion has not yet been ruled on by the court.

Steele's new lawyer, Wesley Hoyt, did not return a phone call seeking comment today.

The minimum sentences for each of Steele's convictions - use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire, use of explosive materials to commit a federal felony, possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence and tampering with a victim - is 40 years.

But prosecutors say such a sentence “would not adequately reflect the totality of the Defendant's actions in plotting to kill his wife, commissioning pipe bombs and obstructing or tampering with a witness into consideration; it would punish him only for the use of an explosive or destructive device.”

They are recommending U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill sentence Steele to 600 months in prison, or 50 years.

Prosecutors said Steele had opportunities to change his mind but because “heartlessly more insistent” that Fairfax (pictured) “get this job done” by any means, including a gun shot or car crash. (Federal agents actually told Steele his wife had been run off the road in a ruse just before his arrest. They say he stood up and a fecal matter filled the air when they told him they actually knew of the murder plot.)

In the sentencing memorandum, prosecutors include several quotes from Steele's recording with Fairfax prior to his arrest. A sampling: “Go get, get this job done, Larry.” “Okay, I'm counting on it. I mean, Larry I am really up against it, it has to happen right now.” “Well, you better not get your f**king ass caught.”

Prosecutors also quoted Steele discussing the need for Fairfax to make sure Cyndi Steele dies because he doesn't want to take care of a paraplegic.

“These few, chilling words from Steele's own heart, mind and mouth establish the outrageous circumstances of his offenses,” prosecutors wrote.

Steele had no previous criminal record and was a long-time attorney handling civil cases. Steele has said his ideologies and defense of racists like Butler motivated his prosecution, but prosecutors say “nothing could be further from the truth.”

“His ideologies were no reason to bring this case, and his ideologies were no dissuasion from bringing this case,” prosecutors wrote. “Incarceration is warranted in this case, not because of what Edgar Steele's ideologies re, nor because of who Edgar Steele is, but because of what he did to commit these crimes.”

Edgar Steele requests new trial

A North Idaho attorney convicted last week of hiring his handyman to kill his wife and mother-in-law has requested a new trial.

 Lawyers for Edgar J. Steele, 65, filed a motion for a new trial Thursday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene.

The motion is sealed. Lawyer Robert McAllister, of Colorado, declined to discuss its contents, and Gary Amendola did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Steele faces at least 30 years in prison when he's sentenced in August.

A jury convicted him May 5 of use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and tampering with a victim after a week-long trial in Boise.

The hitman-turned FBI informant, Larry Fairfax, was sentenced to 27 months in prison Wednesday for a pipe bomb he attached to Cyndi Steele's SUV.

Cyndi Steele believes her husband was framed because of his defense of clients like the late Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations.

Did Cyndi Steele read Fairfax’s diary?

Edgar Steele's lawyers, Robert McAllister and Gary Amendola, obtained selections of Larry Fairfax's handwritten journal notes last week after U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a ruling he now says was a mistake

Now prosecutors are investigating whether McAllister and/or Amendola orders by allowing Cyndi Steele to read those notes.

Cyndi Steele read a statement at Fairfax's sentencing Wednesday that Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan says contained information directly from Fairfax's notes.

Whelan said her office will investigate; Winmill said appropriate action will be taken if Steele's lawyer did violate the court order.

Fairfax (pictured) was sentenced to 27 months in prison Wednesday.

Read the rest of my story here.

Jury convicts Edgar Steele on all counts

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Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson is pictured after the verdict. In back, from left to right, are two unidentified officials, Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan, FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws. Above that photo is a slideshow of photos showing Edgar Steele through the years. 

BOISE – A North Idaho lawyer accused of plotting to kill his wife failed to persuade a federal jury that he was the victim of a government conspiracy to silence him.

The U.S. District Court jury of 11 women and one man Thursday convicted Edgar Steele of hiring handyman-turned-FBI-informant Larry Fairfax to kill his wife, Cyndi Steele, and mother-in-law.

Cyndi Steele, pictured with her attorney, Wesley Hoyt. vowed to appeal the verdict. She believes her husband was targeted because of his defense of unpopular clients.

Read the rest of my story here.

A previous version of the story with more than 20 reader comments is available here.

A no-contact order between the Steeles has been lifted, and they are free to visit in jail whenever visiting hours permit.

A background piece on Steele is available here.

Steele was convicted of the following felonies:
1. Use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission for murder (for directing Larry Fairfax to drive to Oregon to kill his wife.) Punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
2. Aiding and abetting use of explosive material to commit a federal felony (for a pipe bomb Fairfax strapped to Edgar Steele's car at Steele's direction so authorities would think his wife's killer also targeted him.) Punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
3. Aiding and abetting possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence (for the pipe bomb on Cyndi Steele's SUV.) Punishable by a minimum 30 years in prison.
4. Tampering with a victim (for a phone call he made to Cyndi Steele after his arrest). Punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
  

Steele’s defense points to Fairfax set up

There's no doubt that the federal government has evidence in its case against Edgar Steele, his lawyer says, but all that evidence points back to Larry Fairfax, who claims to have been hired by Steele to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

The pipe bomb strapped to Cyndi Steele's SUV was Fairfax's “act of defiance,” Robert McAllister said, referring to a book Fairfax has said he wants to write. 
 
He reminded jurors that Cyndi Steele said there were problems with the recordings in which her husband discussed the plot to kill her with Fairfax, such as unexplained breaks and syntax issues. 
 
“There is one conclusion about those recordings: they are nothing but tar,” McAllister said. “…It's fantasy talk; it's fiction; it's Larry Fairfax talking and trying to set up Edgar Steele.”
 
“Unfortunately in real life, this is more than just trying to write a book, it's putting people's lives in danger,” McAllister said
 
He emphasized that Fairfax admits to attaching a pipe bomb to Cyndi Steele's SUV but didn't tell the FBI about it when he told them he could set up Edgar Steele.
 
“No one knows that until June 15, when it's found,” he said. 
 
McAllister said Steele had no reason to want his wife dead. Claims by the prosecution that Steele was in love with a woman he met on the Internet are wrong  - the communication was part of Steele's examination of the Russian bride scam.
 
“The whole Russian bride scam was a case, something to work on. It was something his family laughed about, because it was so fake,” McAllister said. “It's fantasy… it's not a motive to commit murder. it's not a reason to commit murder.”
 
He said the Steeles talked regularly on the phone, including a 43-minute conversation the day before prosecutors say Cyndi was to be killed. McAllister also reminded jurors that Edgar Steele recently paid $2,779 to save his mother-in-law's home.
 
“If there's really a plot or a plan, do you go take that kind of money and give it to someone else, who you're supposedly going to kill?” McAllister said.
 
“The evidence in this case is that he loves Cyndi Steele, that he spent 25 years - now 26 - married to her with three children,” McAllister said.
 
He said the couple did have problems 10 years ago, but “the evidence in the next 10 years is that they raised their family” lived in North Idaho and were happy.
 
“Never did Edgar Steele show anything besides love for his family,” McAllister said. He pointed to the longtime friends who told jurors how shocked they were by the allegations.
 
He said the phone call Steele made to his wife from the jail doesn't qualify as victim tampering. Cyndi Steele has said she wasn't influenced by the call, and Edgar Steele didn't know of the specifics of the recordings when he called Cyndi Steele.
 
“Yes she doesn't believe that her husband is trying harm her, but she doesn't know about what Mr. Fairfax or what (his cousin) Mr. (James) Maher might want to do to her,” McAllister said. “All she knows is a bomb was found under her car.”
 
“I'm sure the government will say 'she's in denial, she's wrong,' but the fact is this is the victim…coming before a jury and saying 'I don't believe it.'”

Fairfax to call book ‘An Act of Defiance’

Larry Fairfax, the main witness in the Edgar Steele murder-for-hire trial, plans to write a book based on the case called “An Act of Defiance: Built on Lies and Deceit by the FBI.”

Daryl Hollingsworth, who met Fairfax and Steele in the Bonner County Jail, testified this morning that he was asked by Fairfax to design the cover and include a “picture of Larry Fairfax's logging truck running over an Aryan Nations member.” Steele was a lawyer for the Aryan Nations in a 2000 lawsuit that bankrupted the racist group.
 
Holllingsworth said he also was asked to include a picture of an FBI agent stabbing Fairfax in the back.
 
Fairfax told defense lawyer Robert McAllister the “defiant act” referred to in the title as him “going against Edgar Steele and turning him in.”
 
In his notes, Fairfax said he plans to call the book fiction.
 
Fairfax writes about how he became a victim in the case and that the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office “screwed me over” by charging him with two federal firearms felonies related to the device.
 
 McAllister asked Fairfax if he designed the book so that he would be the hero, but Fairfax said that wasn't the case.
 
“You actually describe yourself as the victim,” McAllister said. “You make statements about how you should not be in jail, and you make statements about how you're gong to save the life of Cyndi Steele.” 
 
Fairfax agreed. 
 
McAllister pointed out that Fairfax told the FBI of the device only after it was discovered, and that he “never made any effort to take it off” Cyndi Steele's car. 
 
Fairfax also described in the notes how the explosive device “never would have worked.”
 
He also writes that him being in jail is a “waste of an innocent life.”
 
Court is on a break. It's not yet known if Edgar Steele will testify. Cyndi Steele met with him and was extremely emotional afterward. Steele's supporters held a prayer circle before returning to the courtroom.

Edgar, Cyndi Steele allowed to meet today

 

Edgar Steele will be allowed to visit with his wife and alleged victim today before deciding if he will testify today in his murder—for-hire trial in U.S. District Court in Boise.
 
Steele's lawyer, Robert McAllister, said his client requested the meeting. 
 
“At this time i think it's appropriate that he get a chance to consult with his wife about decisions in this case,” McAllister said.
 
Edgar and Cyndi Steele have have been allowed to meet in jail once a week since last fall, but they have been prohibited from discussing the case.
 
Prosecutors objected to the request because they may recall Cyndi Steele as a reputable witness if Edgar testifies, and they fear he may try to influence her.
 
But Judge B. Lynn Winmill said he saw no reason not to allow the couple to meet for 10-15 minutes with defense lawyers present. 
 
Winmill said his decision was based on the unusual circumstance of Cyndi Steele not believing the government's case and supporting her husband.
 
“It's a very unique situation for that reason,” Winmill said. “I guess I just see no purpose in maintaining no contact order.”
 
Physical contact is prohibited.

Defense expert to refute Steele recording

In what defense lawyer Robert McAllister said was “great news,” a man hired by the defense to refute the authenticity of the FBI recordings in the Edgar Steele case will be allowed to testify.

McAllister requested Monday that George Papcun be allowed to testify. Judge B. Lynn Winmill agreed, and defense lawyers are working to arrange a time. Papcun could testify via video, similar to the taped deposition by Steele's alleged love interest, 25-year-old Tatyana Loginova of Ukraine. 
 
Papcun said he wouldn’t use the term “suspicious” to describe anomalies in the recording because a variety of factors could have caused the glitches he observed.
 
Winmill ruled today that testimony provided by Cyndi Steele and her daughter, Kelsey Steele, opened the door for testimony from Papcun about whether the recordings have been altered by the federal government.
 
Prosecutors are expected to present witnesses to rebut Papcuns testimony. The case could be with the jury as early as late tomorrow or early Wednesday.

Steele’s daughter testifies in his defense

Edgar Steele's 20-year-old daughter told jurors today that she doesn't believe the recording of her father discussing a plot to kill her mother is authentic.

Kesley Steele, a student at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, said she recognizes her father's voice on parts of the recording but not others.
 
“The main thing that I noticed throughout it is it's just not the way that he talks,” she said.
 
She said she listened to the recordings several times and knows her mother “wanted to come up with her own conclusion…same with my brother and sister and myself.”
 
Steele said she “grew up” in the barn where Steele and Larry Fairfax reportedly had the conversation on the recording and said she'd never before heard a train whistle. Prosecutors provided phone records that show a train passes within a few miles of the area once per evening.
 
Steele said she knew of her father's work on the Russian bride scam but didn't talk about the details with him.
 
“Getting into more details, it was not a huge common interest at the time,” she said. 
 
She said the work was also a joke around the house.
 
Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan asked Kelsey Steele if it was true she didn't want to believe that her father wanted her mother killed.
 
“Of cousre I don't want to, and I don't,” Steele replied.
 
 Kesley Steele sent her father books in jail, at first using her money or her mother's but soon using “donations from people who believed in my dad, Steele said under cross examination.
 
Whelan said Kelsey sometimes sent books and magazines to her father that he didn't want, and he was sure to let her know she'd screwed up.
 
“He would let me know if I messed up,” Kelsey Steele said.
 
Also testifying today was a Sandpoint man who arrived at Edgar Steele's home for a trip to Spokane the day of Steele's arrest. Allen Banks told jurors he was familiar with the defendant's research into the Russian mail order bride scandal.
 
Banks said he was visiting the Steele home once when “Ed called me over to the computer to see his Russian girlfriends.”
 
Banks said Cyndi Steele was present, and they looked at photos of about five or six Ukrainian women “who had been contacted as part of a legal case.”
 
The three laughed together as they discussed the case, Banks said.
Banks said Steele was weak and disoriented after medical treatment for an aneurysm. He saw Steele led out of his Talache Road home in handcuffs June 11.
 
“He was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, and his face looked puffy,” Banks said.
 
He said he was surprised by the arrest
 
“Definitely, because it's completely out of character,” Banks said.
 
But prosecutors pointed out that Banks said Steele's health had improved by the day of his arrest. They also noted that Steele called Banks to set up the appointment June 9, which matches what he told Fairfax about setting up an alibi.
 
Also testifying for the defense today was Sandpoint veterinarian Robert Stoll, who said the allegations against Steele are “completely out of character.”
 
“Edgar is a sweet, kind man,” Stoll said. He has known the Steeles for years and testified briefly about the couple's peaceful relationship. 
 
Cyndi Steele's best friend, Billie Elizabeth Cochran, also told jurors that she never witnessed or heard of spousal abuse in the 10 years she's known the couple. Cyndi Steele stayed at her home after her husband's arrest because she was afraid to stay at their home.

Old friend of Steele’s describes shock

A longtime friend of Edgar Steele told jurors that he was “shocked” when he learned of Steele's arrest and never saw Steele threaten or harm anyone in the more than 40 years he's known him.

Jeff Miller, a partner with George's Cyclotron Inc., who also works with Hendry Ranch Wines in Napa Valley, Calif., said he met Steele through a mutual friend in the late 1960s or early 1970s in the San Francisco area.

Their families socialized, and Steele's children still refer to Miller as “Uncle Jeff,” he told jurors. Miller said he met Cyndi Steele a year or two before she married Edgar, and that he's never known Steele to threaten or harm his wife or children.

“Ed is a very strict parent, as am I. So sometimes you come down on the kids. But that's our job,” Miller said.

He said he learned of Steele's arrest when Steele's son, Rex, called him.

“It was quite a shock,” Miller said. Miller said he didn't know of the Steeles' divorce petition in 2000 until Sunday night.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Miller acknowledged that he didn't know of the Steeles' marriage problems and that Edgar Steele never confided to him that he was looking for women on Match.com.

Miller said Steele once tried to enlist his help with research into the Russian bride scam. He said Steele called and asked him to go to a website and find a particular person, and that it would cost him “a couple hundred dollars.”

But Miller's wife told him it wasn't a good idea. “I called him back that same day and told him my wife wouldn't let me do it,” Miller said.

Also testifying this morning was a Sagle, Idaho, man who traveled with Fairfax to check on a pipe bomb attached to Cyndi Steele's SUV.

James Maher, Fairfax's cousin, told jurors today that he spent about 10 seconds trying to see if the device was still there.

Maher said he couldn't get under the 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor because neighbors near the Oregon City, Ore., home of Steele's mother-in-law were watching.

Maher said he wanted to see if the pipe bomb was gone “because I thought Cyndi Steele was a really nice lady.”

Maher admitted that Fairfax once said something about appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show. “That was like an over-the-top thing,” Maher said. “But yeah, I thought it might work out for him; I don't know.”

But, Maher added, “there was no braggery involved.”

He said Fairfax said he couldn't check himself because Cyndi Steele might see him. “Then the jig would be up,” Maher said.

Steele jurors hear from Ukrainian woman

Edgar Steele told a 25-year-old Ukrainian woman after his arrest on murder-for-hire charges that the Anti-Defamation League had manufactured a recording of him plotting to kill his wife using a collection of secret recordings by Larry Fairfax and thousands of hours of online audio files. 

Steele wrote in a letter to Tatyana Loginova that the case against him began when Fairfax stole $45,000 in silver, though prosecutors have shown jurors that Steele cashed in about that same amount of silver a couple months before his arrest.

“This has been a huge shock to me but not really a surprise; they have been after me for a long time because of my outspoken criticism” of the federal government and U.S. power brokers, Steele wrote Loginova.

FBI Special Agent Brent Smith, who is based in the Ukraine, read from the letter this morning in U.S. District Court in Boise, the fourth day of testimony in Steele's murder-for-hire trial.

Smith helped with Loginova's deposition in the Ukraine. Loginova declined to travel to the United States to testify, and because she is not a U.S. citizen, she could not be forced to appear.

In a deposition taped in early March, Loginova, through a  translator, said she met Steele through an online dating website, exchanged emails and learned about his personal life.

“Did he ever tell you if he had kids?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan asked.

“Yes, he did. They told me that they don't live with him though. He told me that he lives alone,” Loginova said through a  translator.

Steele wrote that Loginova could find work, “take care of our babies, make love to me, whatever would make you happy.”

He said he was trying to get his children to mail her a package with a teddy bear, map of the area and other gifts.

“I begin to suspect that my ex may be behind all of this,” Steele writes. “She knows that you are very special to me and I know that's why she has not sent your box as she promised me she would do.”

Loginova said Steele planned to visit Ukraine in August 2010. 

She said the two began talking over Skype in May or early June.

Under cross examination, defense lawyer Gary Amendola emphasized that Loginova doesn't actually know if  Steele is the one who wrote the letter.

Steele's wife, Cyndi Steele, testified last week that her husband was corresponding with Loginova and other women as part of his research into the Russian mail order bride scam.

The prosecution has rested. Judge Winmill has denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Steele.

The defense will begin presenting its case shortly. Steele's wife and daughter have attended each day of the trial. Hayden resident Deon Masker, wife of white supremacist Richard Masker, is at the trial for the first time today.

Experts dispute Fairfax’s claim re: bomb

This pipe bomb was attached to Cyndi Steele's car June 15 when she went to a Coeur d'Alene auto shop for a routine oil change. The photo was shown to jurors today in Edgar Steele's murder-for-hire trial.

BOISE - A Spokane County bomb expert said at Edgar Steele's murder-for-hire trial today that the pipe bomb attached to Cyndi Steele's SUV last June was capable of exploding and unlike any device he's seen.
 
“It's the largest pipe bomb that I've dealt with,” said Sgt. Mike Kittilstved, head of the Spokane County bomb squad, which dismantled the device.
 
Though hitman-turned-informant Larry Fairfax has said he rigged the bomb so it wouldn't explode, Kittilstved and other experts said that's wasn't the case.
 
Kittilstved said the device contained “a significant amount” of powder.
 
“Definitely enough to ignite the device,” he said.
 
Fairfax has said he cut the fuse in several places to prevent it from burning through.
 
But Agent Brennan Phillips, an explosives expert for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the black tape on the device would still burn in place of the fuse.
 
“In fact, the tape will burn a little bit faster,” he said.
 
Phillips said the construction of the device showed him that “certainly there's a desire to make sure this thing works,” he said.
 
The bomb experts were today's last witnesses. 
 
The prosecution is expected to rest Monday after testimony from Steele's alleged European love interest.

Phone records back up Steele recordings

BOISE - Edgar Steele's lawyers have questioned the reliability of recordings that show their client discussing the plot to kill his wife with alleged hitman-turned-FBI-informant Larry Fairfax.

Prosecutors used phone records provided by the defense to poke a hole in that claim this morning.
 
Steele told his wife, Cyndi Steele, after his arrest that he expected investigators to provide a manufactured recording that combined several conversations into one.
 
In the recordings, which jurors listened to Wednesday, Fairfax calls Steele as he's driving to his Sagle-area home. 
 
A time-stamped record of that phone call is in records shown to jurors today by the defense. Lawyers were showing jurors the numerous and lengthy phone calls between the Steeles.
 
Cyndi Steele acknowledged the phone record but emphasized that she firmly believes her husband is innocent.
 
Steele's lawyer Robert McAllister mentioned his client's legal work with the Aryan Nations today while cross examining Cyndi Steele. 
 
Prosecutors objected, saying it isn't relevant, but Judge B. Lynn Winmill allowed the testimony. 
 
Cyndi Steele agreed with defense lawyer Robert McAllister that her husband had represented unpopular causes, including Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations and said her family has had previous threats made on their lives.
 
Steele has said she believes her husband was framed by the federal government.
 
Cyndi Steele also said she was helping her husband with his research into the Russian mail order bride scam. She agreed with McAllister that the emails her husband sent to the women amounted to cyber-space fantasy.
 
She agreed that Edgar is an “excellent writer” who was very capable of writing emails and sounding like “a love-sick teenager.”
 
She said Edgar never threatened her or her mother and recently helped with her mother's mortgage before his arrest.
 
She said Edgar told her to go to Oregon to help her mother.
 
“He never objected,” she said. “He was always sad to see me go, but he never objected.”
 
Cyndi Steele's testimony has ended. 
 
Kevin Mitchell, who owns CoinNuts in Coeur d'Alene, testified briefly, telling jurors how he'd cashed in a large amount of silver for Edgar Steele in April. 
 
Josh Young, who was working at the Quik Lube in Coeur d'Alene when he spotted the pipe bomb under Cyndi's car, also briefly testified.
 
Mark Fox of the Spokane County Sheriff's Office bomb squad will continue testifying after the afternoon break. He helped dismantle the pipe bomb.

Edgar sent 14k+ emails to other women

BOISE - Jurors this morning saw emails Edgar Steele sent to a 25-year-old European woman with whom prosecutors say he was seeking an intimate relationship. The messages were among more than 14,000 Steele sent through a Ukrainian online dating website in the months before his arrest last June.

Steele told Tatyana Loginova he was looking for “his second half, a girl he couldn't live without,” and that he was not in love with his wife.
 
Edgar Steele told her he had “produced the greatest children in the world, but I deserve more. I will never have another American woman, never again,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said.
 
In testimony this morning in U.S. District Court in Boise, Steele's wife, Cyndi Steele, said the correspondence was simply part of his research into the Russian mail order bride scam.
 
She said the activity differed from her husband's inquires into online dating more than 10 years ago, which led to a divorce petition by Cyndi Steele in 2000. The couple reconciled.
 
Cyndi Steele said her husband, who is on trial for an alleged murder plot against her, said she knew of the correspondence.
 
“He told me about it because he wanted to discuss it with me, and how I felt about it…so I would know it was not like before,” Cyndi Steele said. “And that's exactly what I did know, it was not like 2000, and this was nothing but research trying to bring down the bride scam.”
 
Whelan said she reviewed emails with Cyndi Steele in her office last month to avoid surprising and embarrassing her at trial.
 
But, Cyndi Steele said today, “I knew what they were before I went in…I wasn't going to be embarrassed because I know about them.”
 
But Edgar Steele could have made up any identity and told the women anything to gain information, Whelan said. Instead, he described his life to Loginova, sent her pictures of his home and the family's newborn kittens and even mentioned the couple 's, Rex.
 
In one email, Edgar Steele says he's worried Rex's mother will be at the home while he's visiting for spring break.
 
Cyndi Steele told jurors she wasn't concerned.
 
“He was setting up a ruse the same way the FBI agents did with my husband's arrest,” she said.
 
Jurors were shown photos of  Loginova from her online profile.
 
“That looks like one of the many pictures of girls that he showed me,” Cyndi Steele said of the images. “All of the girls I saw were pretty like this and very similar in body structure.”
 
Whelan also focused on Cyndi Steele's theft report regarding $45,000 in silver. She reported the theft in September, more than two months after her husband's arrest.
 
Whelan mentioned that Edgar Steele had called his son, Rex, in July and also asked him to report the theft, telling him that it was “very important”
 
“You were trying to establish this idea that your husband told you that Larry Fairfax may have stolen from you to help your husband's defense,” Whelan said.
 
“I based my investigation on things that my husband had told me, and then I investigated,” Steele replied.
 
Whelan said Edgar Steele viewed his wife's dream - her horse farm - as “a symbol of wasted money.”
 
“He knew in reality it was not a money maker, but he knew it was my dream and supported it,” Cyndi Steele said.

Jurors hear Steele’s jail phone call to wife

BOISE - “This phone call is protected under husband-wife privilege, even if they're recording it, they can't use it for any purpose.”

Edgar Steele said that to his wife, Cyndi, in a June phone call played for jurors today in his murder-for-hire case in U.S. District Court in Boise. The call led to a victim tampering charge against him.

Only a portion of the call had been released before today. The entire phone call was played for the 13 women and 1 man hearing the case. Two of the women are alternates. 
 
In the call, Cyndi Steele says she has a “small doubt” because of an earlier incident. 
 
“You have not been yourself, and you told me to get out of your life and get out of the way,” she said. Steele said he was in the hospital on drugs.
 
“You've got to know me better than this,” he said.
 
“Sweetie, I love you. I love you; you've got to believe me,” he continued. “If I were to get rid of you, I would just walk away from you. I would never hurt you. Twenty-five years we spent together, you should know that by now.”
 
Fairfax testified earlier today that Steele rejected his suggestion of divorce because he said his wife wanted too much when she petitioned for divorce in 2000. Prosecutors submitted that divorce petition as evidence; in it, Cyndi Steele asks for $1,400 a month in child support as well as alimony payments to cover counseling.
 
In the June phone call, Steele acknowledges he feared she may be seeing another man.
 
“The last few months you seemed distant, and you sure haven't been around, and I've missed you terribly, and I did wonder if you had someone else,”he said.
 
Cyndi Steele tells her husband that she “told you I was giving you six months. That was the idea, that I needed you to heal before we had any talks.”
 
She testified today that she was not seeking a divorce.
 
Steele told his wife the recording she was to listen to would be “a very high-class production. I expect this to be very convincing, and it's total fucking bulls**t.
 
“This is going to be Mission Impossible-level convincing,” he continued. He said the recording likely would be collection of recordings combined into one incriminating phone call. (Defense lawyers wanted two people to testify regarding flaws they found in the recordings, but Judge Lynn Winmill declined; neither expert had supported their findings. One of the experts said he wouldn’t describe the glitches as “suspicious,” because a variety of factors could have caused them.)
 
Cyndi Steele asks if it's possible that local FBI agents are “oblivious” to the plot.
 
“Yes, it's likely. In fact, it's absolutely likely,” Edgar Steele said. “Most of the FBI agents are good people doing a good job. They're being used. They wouldn't know the difference if they were handed this kind of tape.”
 
He reminds his wife, “If I go to prison, it will only be because of what you tell them tomorrow.”

Cyndi says she knew of Edgar’s women

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Edgar Steele’s call to his son
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Edgar Steele’s call to his wife

These are portions of phone calls from the Kootenai County Jail that were played for jurors today in the murder-for-hire trial of Edgar Steele.

BOISE - Cyndi Steele testified today that she knew her husband was talking to European women online but said the communication was part of his research into Russian mail order brides.

She said the two often sat in his home office reading the correspondence from the women. “We would end up laughing together, because we didn't believe it was always the pretty girl behind the writings,” she testified today, the second day of testimony in Edgar Steele's murder-for-hire trial. “It could be a man as far as we knew.”
 
Cyndi Steele (pictured at a press conference last October) said she knew Edgar told the women he was divorced and wanted to have babies with them, though she admitted she didn't know he'd sent them pictures of their Talache Road home.
 
“I gave him the go ahead because I trusted him,” she said. “He would let me read anything I wanted; I knew what he was sending…I knew all about it, and I knew it was a case, and I knew he saw a book in it.”
 
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan emphasized that Cyndi Steele didn't read every email.
 
“He was lying to you, Cyndi,”  Whelan said. 
 
Cyndi Steele, the victim of the alleged murder plot, said she knew Edgar wrote to one of the women, Tatayna Loginova, from the jail confessing his love. Whelan questioned why he would continue to lie for research purposes while jailed on such serious federal charges.
 
Steele's testimony was interrupted repeatedly as prosecutors called for her responses to be stricken because they didn't address the questions. The final dispute arose just before scheduled adjournment at 2:30 .m., so attorneys for both sides will meet with Judge B. Lynn Winmill at 8:15 a.m. Friday to discuss. Cyndi Steele's testimony is expected to continue at 8:30 a.m.
 
Much of today's testimony focused on Edgar her husband's correspondence with other women and the couple's past marriage problems.
 
Steele and her mother owned a dance studio in San Francisco when her mother was injured in a car crash. Someone recommended they seek counsel from a law office. Edgar Steele had recently been hired there. The Steeles married in 1985. 
 
But by the late 1990s, Edgar Steele had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and his wife was experiencing “issues” that kept them apart, according to testimony. Cyndi Steele briefly sought a divorce in 2000 after creating a fake Match.com profile to see if Edgar, who advertised himself as single, would respond.
 
Whelan asked Cyndi Steele if the marriage was saved because Edgar Steele said he “merely wanted to try on other women but had decided that you were the one for him.”
 
“That's a very small summary of it, but I'd say yes,” Cyndi Steele said.
 
“Because he was so unhappy, he was looking to see if our home life was really what he wanted or if there was something better,” she continued. “I think he was really questioning his life about everything.”
 
Whelan then asked about this past year, when Cyndi was splitting her time between Edgar's health problems in North Idaho and her mother's health problems in Oregon.
 
“It was very hard, because I need to be in both places,” she said. “I had to go where the most emergency was…I had to weigh it, and it was hard to weigh it because I had two people who I very much loved who need me.”
 
“I can understand why he felt I was maybe neglecting him,” Cyndi said of Edgar. “I hadn't been getting enough of him, either.” 
 
But she emphasized that the situation was “much different” than the problems that provoked the divorce petition 11 years ago.
 
Aftrer her husband's arrest, Cyndi Steele reported $45,000 in silver missing from the home and listed FBI informant Larry Fairfax as the suspect.
 
Defense lawyers say Fairfax set up Edgar to cover up his theft of silver from the Steeles.
 
But Whelan said today that Edgar had cashed about that same amount in silver last April. 
Cyndi said she was aware of that and factored it in when counting their silver.
 
Jurors heard phone calls Edgar Steele made to Cyndi and their son, Rex, from the Kootenai County Jail after his arrest that led to tampering with a witness charges.
 
Steele told his wife he feared she was seeing someone else.
 
“I'm only suffering because I love you and I'm not getting enough of you,” he said.
 
He also urged her to stand “like a rhinoceros in the road” and tell authorities the voice on the recordings with Fairfax “was not my husband's voice.” 
 
Cyndi Steele said she doesn't believe her husband was trying to unduly influence her in the call.
 
“He was trying to tell me he was innocent, and that's what he was standing up for,” Cyndi Steele said. “He never asked me to lie, and he knows I would be upset if he wrongly went to prison.”
 
In the phone call, Cyndi told Edgar that she rmembered him telling her to get out of his life after his surgery. Edgar said he made the comment while heavily medicated; Cyndi testified today that he didn't mean the comment.
 
“i don't count that as he wanted a divorce; he was extremely sick,” she said 

Cop details Steele’s reax to wife’s death

BOISE - Idaho State Police Trooper Jess Spike has notified families of about two dozen deaths in his career.

Never has he seen a reaction as stoic as that of Edgar Steele at his Sagle-area home last June when Spike told him his wife, Cyndi Steele, had died in a car crash after being run off the road near Portland, Ore., Spike testified today. 
 
“It was flat, paused, almost contrived. It was as if he was trying to retrieve something in an archive and come up with what the answer was. It wasn't natural,” Spike said. “He kind of choked up. It appeared as though he was trying to develop tears, and no tears developed.” 
 
Investigators then told Steele his wife had been run off the road but the assailant had crashed and was hospitalized, and that the man was “somewhat conscious” and detectives “were trying to put the pieces together,” Spike said.
 
“I think that was the first point that I noticed a change in his demeanor. He seemed somewhat surprised at that point in time, that what he had expected had kind of gotten away from him, and it wasn't something he'd planned for,” Spike said. “It was more genuine in reaction.”
 
FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka asked Steele if he knew Larry Fairfax. Steele replied that he did. 
 
Sotka asked if Steele suspected his wife might be having an affair. 
 
“I do remember him saying, 'well, she is over there a lot,'” Spike said. 
 
Sotka continued to push Steele to see if he would repeat what he'd promised Fairfax he would say in the recorded conversation.
 
 “He just kind of took it hook line and sinker and just went with it,” Spike said. “I remember him patting his stomach implying that (Fairfax) was heavy set and that he didn't think Mrs. Steele would go for someone like that.”
 
According to a recording played for jurors Tuesday, Steele told Fairfax he would tell investigators about a suspected affair if Fairfax was arrested.
 
 “Like in ‘Mission: Impossible,’ I will disavow your existence,” Steele said, according to the recording. “… There won’t be anything I can do except throw you to the … wolves.”
 
Steele had also said he planned a lunch appointment with a friend as part of his alibi. Steele's friend Allen Banks showed up the day at of his arrest for a meeting with Steele, investigators said.
 
When investigators told Steele his mother-in-law had been shot, Spike said the lawyer's reaction was simply “F**k me.”
 
“It was almost, I'm searching for the word, surprise and disbelief?” Spike said.
 
Steele mentioned organizations that may have been out to get him and his family, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, Spike said.
 
Then Sotka took a phone call and told Steele he'd just been informed that Fairfax told investigators “to ask Mr. Steele what was going on, that he could answer all of the questions that he had.”
 
Spike said Steele “had no reaction whatsoever.”
 
That's when investigators told him his wife wasn't actually dead and that he was under arrest for hiring Fairfax to kill her, Spike said.
 
Fairfax testified Wednesday that Steele had a list of about 12 others he wanted killed, too. He finished testifying this morning and denied arranging the plot to set up Steele. 
 
Defense lawyer Robert McAllister emphasized that Steele never confessed to being involved in the plot.
 
“The whole idea was to get him to crack, to make some kind of omission, and he never did,” McAlliser said of Spike's false death notification.
 
But Spike said investigators wanted to see if Steele would do what he told Fairfax he would.
 
From mailing items at the Post Office to transporting lumber and arranging a lunch appointment, “there was just a number of things that all lined up,” Spike said.
 
“This 'ruse' as the defense counsel put it was to basically cross those ts and dot those i's so we could put two and two together,” Spike said.
 
Along with Spike, this morning's witnesses included an FBI agent in Portland who notified Cyndi Steele of the alleged plot, and a Coeur d'Alene FBI agent who led the search of Steele's Talache Road home the day of his arrest. Cyndi Steele could testify this afternoon.

Fairfax says Steele rejected divorce idea

BOISE - When Larry Fairfax spoke with Edgar Steele about a plot to kill Steele's wife, he asked the North Idaho lawyer why he didn't divorce his wife instead.

“He said the last time he was going to get a divorce form her she was going to take too much, and we didn't want to part with all his possession and money,” Fairfax said today in U.S. District Court in Boise.
 
According to court records, Cyndi Steele filed for divorce in June 2000, alleging her husband “misrepresented his marital status and eligibility” in online dating profiles “with the sole intention of meeting women” in San Mateo, where he maintained a law office. The case was dismissed two months later and the couple remained married.
 
Now prosecutors allege Edgar Steele wanted his wife killed because he believed she was having an affair and because he was interested in a young woman in Europe.
 
Fairfax, the alleged hitman-turned-FBI informant, testified this morning that Steele had said “he hired a private investigator to follow his wife around and that she was having an affair with an old high school flame in Portland.”
 
Fairfax also said Steele was planning a 30-day trip to Europe.
 
Fairfax said he was working at Big Al's in Post Falls when an FBI agent called him on June 15 after the pipe bomb was found under Cyndi Steele's car. 
 
He's been in custody since and is to be sentenced after the trial for two federal firearms charges.

Jurors hear Fairfax-Steele recordings

In this sketch by Ward Hooper, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws is shown at the podium during the trial of Edgar J. Steele today. Steele is shown at right.

BOISE - Larry Fairfax told jurors in the Edgar Steele murder-for-hire trial that though he accepted money from Steele, he never intended to kill anyone and told the FBI about the plot because he feared retribution.

“Mr. Steele was getting agitated, and he said if i didn't take care of the job he would find someone else to do the job, and me,” Fairfax said.
 
Fairfax, who lived near Steele in Sagle, Idaho, testified today in U.S. District Court in Boise, where he is being housed at the Ada County Jail for the trial.
 
Fairfax contacted lawyer Jim Michaud, and the two arranged a meeting with federal authorities. The FBI gave Fairfax a recording device, and he secretly taped two conversations with Steele at his Talache Road home, east of Sagle near Shepherd Lake.
 
Jurors heard recordings of those conversations this afternoon.
 
Steele's lawyers have questioned the authenticity of the tapes.  His supporters, including his wife, believe Steele has been framed by the government.
 
In the first conversation, on June, 9, Steele is heard agreeing to give Fairfax a $400 “advance” to pay for his trip to Oregon City, where Cyndi Steele was visiting her mother.
 
Steele tells Fairfax “I'll take it out of your f**king hide; you gotta get this job done.” He said a car crash could trigger an insurance policy payment.
 
“You've got a big payday riding on this one. I've set it up that way on purpose,” Steele says
 
Steele acknowledges that the death investigation could trace back to him.
 
“We'll be sharing a cell together,” Steele said.
 
But he said he hadn't had second thoughts.
 
“The only second thought I had is ever talking to you,” Steele told Fairfax.
 
Steele told Fairfax he and a friend were to travel to Spokane the next day - the day his wife was to be killed - to go to a lumber yard and to eat lunch. The trip was part of an alibi Steele planned, according to the conversation. 
 
“I'll make myself memorable at whatever restaurant we go to,” Steele said.
 
He also said he planned to mail something in Spokane and get a receipt, then go to Sandpoint that afternoon.
 
He said he would go to the bank and post office in Sandpoint for “something that creates a record with a time stamp” and would say something memorable to the clerk.
 
But, the self-proclaimed “lawyer for the damned” said, “I always say memorable things. If I didn't say anything memorable, that would be unusual.”
 
Steele told Fairfax he anticipated a visit from authorities but wasn't sure if they'd be there to arrest him or simply notify him of his wife's death.
 
“I hope to God I can answer the door and seem normal,” Steele said.
 
He said if Fairfax was to get caught, he would tell the police that Fairfax was possibly in love with his wife and killed her because she wouldn't sleep with him.
 
“Like in Mission Impossible, I will disavow your existence,” Steele said. “…There won't be anything i can do except throw you to the f**king wolves.”
 
In testimony, Fairfax said Steele was very angry with him one day and suspected he'd been in his home without Steele's permission.
 
Steele told him if he went in the house again “he would shoot me” and put his children to work, Fairfax told jurors.
 
That touches on a key allegation by the defense - that Fairfax had stolen silver from the Steeles and set up the murder plot probe to cover up the theft.
 
Court is adjourned for the day. Fairfax's testimony will continue Thursday at 8:30 a.m., Boise time.

In ruse, FBI told Steele wife was dead

BOISE - The day Edgar Steele was arrested for an alleged murder plot against his wife, investigators first told him his wife had died in a car crash to see if he would go along with alibis he'd mentioned in a secretly recorded conversation with an FBI informant.

The 65-year-old lawyer did so, FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka testified today, including making a comment that he suspected his wife was having an affair with Larry Fairfax.
 
Investigators had just told Steele that Fairfax was involved in the crash but was coming out of a coma and beginning to talk, Sotka testified.
 
Steele had told Farifax that if Fairfax was ever caught down in Oregon, Steele would tell authorities that Fairfax was having an affair with his wife, Sotka testified. Sotka is in charge of the North Idaho Violent Crimes Task Force, which led the investigation into Steele.
 
Agents soon told Steele his wife wasn't actually dead and that they knew he'd hired Fairfax to kill her.
Steele stood up and and the “odor of fecal matter” filled the air, Sotka said. 
 
The agents “feared that Mr. Steele had defecated himself,” Sotka said.
 
But defense lawyer Robert McAllister emphasized that Steele never confessed to the murder plot during that ruse by the FBI.
 
Sotka said he would have liked for Steele to have confessed, but he was more there “to see if he was going to follow his alibi and make statements that he made the day before about what his alibi would be.”
 
Sotka said Steele's reaction to news that his wife had been killed in a car crash, and that his mother-in-law had been shot to death in her home, was not typical.
 
 But McAllister questioned why Sotka didn't feel Steele's statement of “what the f**k”?” qualified as shock.
 
“That's three words,” Sotka replied.
 
McAllister also emphasized that the recording of the conversation between Fairfax and Steele isn't original -
it's a version of the recording that was downloaded from the recorder to a computer.
 
“The defense doesn't have an opportunity to listen or examine the original recording, isn't that correct, sir?” McAllister asked Sotka.
 
Sotka disagreed. 
 
He said that because the FBI does not listen to recordings directly from the device, the first download is considered the original copy.
 
Fairfax is the next witness. His testimony will continue about 1:30 p.m., Boise time, after a 15-minute break. Court is expected to let out at 3 p.m., Boise time.

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