FBI agents arrested the former owner of a dock-building company Wednesday on charges he hired an ex-convict to kill the man who ran his business into the ground.
Authorities say James R. Chase, 71, one-time owner of Chase Enterprises, planned to pay $10,000 for the murder of Michael Lares, who bought Chase’s marine construction company a few years ago.
Federal officials allege Chase supplied a former employee - a felon - with a gun and homemade bombs and covered his travel expenses to Nevada to search for Lares.
Lares was unharmed. He declined to comment Wednesday when reached at his home in Reno.
Chase was arrested without incident at his home in the Lake City’s historic Fort Ground neighborhood Wednesday, said FBI special agent Mike Dillon.
He was booked into the Spokane County Jail and arraigned in federal court before being hooked to electronic monitoring equipment and taken home.
A complaint filed in federal court charges Chase with causing someone to travel across state lines with the intent to murder another. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
The arrest shocked neighbors, who described Chase as a grouchy but harmless retiree who griped about speeders and filed odor complaints about a nearby sewer plant.
The arrest ends a two-month investigation during which FBI agents and Kootenai County sheriff’s detectives seized weapons and obtained photographs and audio recordings of meetings between the two men.
Court documents describe events as follows:
In May, Chase ran into former employee Samuel Cook at the Fort Ground Tavern and complained that Lares, in less than a year, had destroyed his barge and marine equipment and ruined the business.
Chase got it back, but claimed it was worthless. It is unclear whether he suffered financial harm as a result. The business has since been passed on to Tom Frey, and is now called Frey Dock & Barge.
Chase asked Cook to find Lares, and later paid him $2,500 for expenses. He told Cook to “keep a low profile.”
In July or August, court documents claim, Cook took off for Nevada in his own car, hired private investigators and found Lares. Chase wired Cook money to return home. Authorities later traced the transaction.
Back in Coeur d’Alene, Chase explained that he was the beneficiary of a $100,000 life insurance policy on Lares. At this meeting, according to court documents, Chase asked Cook to kill Lares, leaving instructions that the body must be left where it could be found.
Chase supplied Cook with a .38-caliber revolver, ammunition and a homemade silencer that he claimed was not stolen or registered, the complaint charges.
Cook then called authorities, whom he met with for days.
They sent him back to the Fort Ground parking lot - with a concealed tape recorder - where he met again with Chase, according to court records. Police photographed the meeting.
Concerned that a bullet might not do the trick, Chase eventually provided Cook with two bombs, made from disposable propane canisters and gunpowder, the complaint alleges.
Over the next month, FBI agents recorded telephone calls and listened on concealed body wires as the two discussed alternate plans for Lares’ death. They obtained a warrant for Chase’s Wednesday arrest.
The case - and Chase - remains an enigma to many who know him.
Sid Fredrickson, superintendent of the city’s waste water treatment plant, said Chase was a frequent caller because prevailing winds pushed odor from the plant toward Chase’s home.
“He was not a happy camper - belligerent you might say - but he’d never be nasty to the point of having everybody fearing for their lives,” Fredrickson said.
Chase was a regular patron at the Fort Ground Tavern, where bartenders and customers knew him by name. They recalled long-ago meetings between Chase and Lares, but said the two were friendly.
Skip Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Tug and Barge, a competing business, said Lares, a one-time St. Maries logger, was unprepared to handle the business, once even dropping a crane in Lake Coeur d’Alene.
“It was a bad deal,” Murphy said. “Jim probably still owned that crane. And it’s still down there.”
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