Plea deal postponed in Idaho murder-for-hire plot
A plea hearing for the hit-man-turned-informant in an alleged North Idaho murder plot was postponed Tuesday because the suspect was reluctant to acknowledge that the pipe bomb he’s accused of placing under the would-be victim’s car could have exploded.
The move to delay the approval of Larry A. Fairfax’s plea deal came the same day an affidavit signed by his alleged target, Cyndi Steele, was filed in U.S. District Court objecting to the proposed deal with Fairfax. The affidavit said approving the deal “would be like letting Charles Manson off with a traffic ticket.”
Cyndi Steele’s husband, attorney Edgar Steele, is in jail facing charges he hired Fairfax to kill his wife and mother-in-law. Steele is best known for his unsuccessful defense of the Aryan Nations in the landmark case 10 years ago that bankrupted the white supremacist group.
The affidavit signed by Cyndi Steele and one signed by her mother, Jacquanette Kunzman, say Fairfax’s accomplices in the murder plot remain at large. Allowing Fairfax to plead guilty as charged would leave him no incentive to help investigators arrest the others, the women argued.
“I have learned more from news media accounts of said plea agreement than from the U.S. government officials who have the responsibility to provide that information to me,” according to Cyndi Steele’s affidavit. “My mother and I believe that it is now crucial that we come forward in order to demand enforcement of our rights as victims because we can see that the Government is ignoring the unnamed accomplices of Larry Fairfax whom these FBI agents said existed.”
After Fairfax and Edgar Steele were arrested, the FBI said there was no outstanding public safety risk.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said in court Tuesday that Cyndi Steele has made it clear she does not wish to communicate with federal prosecutors regarding the case. Whelan also questioned whether Cyndi Steele wrote the affidavit and said she anticipates “an investigation into how the affidavits came to be drafted.”
The documents contain “statements set up to bolster Mr. Steele’s defense,” Whelan said.
Whelan recently accused Edgar Steele of violating a no-contact order by addressing an envelope to his daughter but including a birthday card prosecutors say was written to Cyndi Steele.
The 16-page affidavit signed by Cyndi Steele on Saturday called Edgar Steele her “loving husband” and called for additional charges, including conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder, to be brought against Fairfax. The nearly identical affidavits by Cyndi Steele and Kunzman each mention death threats against their family whenever Edgar Steele “would take political positions on various issues.” “Death threats occurred quite often when my husband was acting as a First Amendment defense lawyer protecting the individual’s right to freedom of speech,” stated Steele’s affidavit.
After auto shop employees found the pipe bomb under the car she was driving during an oil change June 15, “I became so fearful that I could hardly function,” she said in the affidavit.
The affidavit claims FBI agents knew of the pipe bomb when they spoke with Cyndi Steele at her mother’s house in Oregon on June 11, the day her husband was arrested.
Whelan said in court that the affidavit contains statements that “are clearly opinion and from our position, untrue.” She declined to comment after court on the affidavits, which were filed under seal but e-mailed to The Spokesman-Review by an apparent associate of Cyndi Steele.
Fairfax was expected to plead guilty to possession of an unregistered firearm and making a firearm in violation of the National Firearms Act. The charges carry a maximum of 10 years in prison, but federal sentencing guidelines show he could receive as little as 18 months.
According to court documents, Fairfax approached FBI agents June 9 and said he’d been talking with Edgar Steele since November 2009 about a plan to kill Cyndi Steele and Kunzman.
Fairfax told investigators he planted the bomb under the car to convince Edgar Steele the plan was moving forward. Edgar Steele planned to detonate a bomb under his own car after his wife’s death to try to make it look like both had been targeted, according to court testimony.
Fairfax has said he attached the pipe bomb to Cyndi Steele’s car in such a way that it wouldn’t explode, but his plea deal calls for him to acknowledge the device had the potential to explode. Fairfax was reluctant to do that Tuesday, and the hearing was postponed to Thursday at 10 a.m.
Fairfax remains in custody at the Bonner County Jail. Edgar Steele is in the Spokane County Jail. His trial is set for November on charges of use of interstate commerce for the commission of murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony, and possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence and tampering with a victim.