BOISE – The day Edgar Steele was arrested for an alleged murder plot against his wife and mother-in-law, 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 North Idaho lawyer apparently took the bait. FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka testified Wednesday that Steele told agents he suspected his wife, Cyndi Steele, was having an affair with handyman Larry Fairfax, whom prosecutors allege Steele hired to commit the killings. That’s what Steele, in taped conversation, essentially warned he would say if authorities ever connected Fairfax to the deaths.
The prosecution testimony, including the surreptitious recordings of the pre-arranged alibi, was featured Wednesday in U.S. District Court at Boise, the opening day of Steele’s federal trial and his 26th wedding anniversary. A jury of 13 women and one man – two of whom are alternates – is hearing the case; they will decide whether Steele is guilty of hiring a hit man to kill his wife or if he’s the victim of a government conspiracy as his lawyers contend.
Steele gained notoriety in 2000 for his defense of the Aryan Nations against a civil suit that bankrupted the racist North Idaho group.
In the recording, which defense lawyers argue is unreliable, 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 were 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 … wolves.”
Steele’s lawyer, Robert McAllister, questioned the authenticity of the recordings and said he and co-counsel Gary Amendola, of Coeur d’Alene, were unable to examine the original recording on the device. Sotka disagreed, saying that because the FBI does not listen to recordings directly from the device, the first download is considered the original copy.
McAllister said the case against Steele is really the work of Fairfax, whom he described as a financially strapped man desperate to cover up his theft of silver from Steele’s home.
Fairfax testified Wednesday that while he accepted about $10,000 worth of silver as an initial payment from Steele, he never intended to kill anyone and told the FBI about the plot because he feared retribution.
Steele has been in custody since his arrest June 11, three days after Fairfax told investigators Steele hired him to commit murder.
Fairfax was arrested June 15 after a 12-inch pipe bomb was discovered under Cyndi Steele’s car when she went to a Coeur d’Alene auto shop for routine maintenance. Fairfax said he didn’t tell authorities about the device because he thought it had fallen off.
Prosecutors allege Steele wanted his wife killed because he thought she was having an affair in Oregon and because he wanted to be with a young woman he chatted with online, Tatyana Loginova. Loginova, of Ukraine, will testify via video, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws said.
But Steele contends he had been talking to Loginova as part of his research into a book, McAllister told jurors. Cyndi Steele has said she knew of the woman and that her husband was trying to fight human trafficking.
Sotka said Steele’s reaction when he learned of his wife’s supposed death was hardly typical.
Agents soon told Steele his wife wasn’t actually dead and that they knew he’d hired Fairfax to kill her, Sotka said.
Steele stood up and the “odor of fecal matter” filled the air, Sotka said.
The agents, Sotka explained, “feared that Mr. Steele had defecated himself.”