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 vowed to appeal the verdict. She believes her husband was targeted because of his defense of unpopular clients.
Steele, a self-described “attorney for the damned” who gained notoriety in 2000 for his defense of the Aryan Nations against a civil lawsuit that bankrupted the racist organization, will be sentenced Aug. 22 in Coeur d’Alene. He faces at least 30 years in prison.
Coeur d’ Alene lawyer Gary Amendola, who represented Steele with Colorado lawyer Robert McAllister, said he was disappointed by the verdict.
Steele was arrested June 11 at his Talache Road home, near Sagle, Idaho, after Fairfax told the FBI about the plot.
Fairfax was arrested June 15 after Coeur d’Alene auto shop workers found a pipe bomb he strapped to Cyndi Steele’s car – a bomb he hadn’t told the FBI he had planted.
Fairfax pleaded guilty to two federal firearms charges in October and is to be sentenced Wednesday. His lawyer called for him to receive probation and credit for the 11 months he’s already served in jail. Prosecutors are calling for a 40-month prison sentence.
The Steeles contend the secret FBI recordings of Edgar Steele plotting the would-be murder with Fairfax were fabricated. But an audio expert that Steele had hired to question the authenticity of the recordings was unavailable to testify because he was vacationing in Bora Bora.
Cyndi Steele called the verdict “devastating” in an emotional statement Thursday outside the federal courthouse in Boise, where she and other supporters watched the seven-day trial. She and the couple’s daughter, 20-year-old Kelsey Steele, had told jurors they didn’t believe the recordings were authentic.
“I’ve been married to him for 25 years, I know his voice; I know how he says things,” Steele said. “… and no I don’t have Stockholm syndrome and just believe him because I love him. This is my life at stake, and I was never in any danger from my husband.”
Prosecutors say Steele, who is licensed to practice law in Idaho and Washington, wanted his wife dead so he could pursue a relationship with a 25-year-old Ukrainian woman.
Steele sent more than 14,000 messages to the woman and others whom he met through an online dating website. His wife and other supporters said the communication was part of his research into Russian mail-order brides.
Cyndi Steele said Fairfax wanted to kill her to frame her husband and conceal his theft of $45,000 in silver. Prosecutors say Steele gave Fairfax a $10,000 down payment in silver and offered $15,000 more if he killed Cyndi Steele and her mother in Oregon, with a promise of more if Fairfax could cause an accident that would trigger a car insurance payment.
Steele said she believes her husband was prosecuted because of his defense of unpopular clients such as the late Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations. She said her husband did not “fully share” Butler’s views but wanted to defend his right to freedom of speech.
“He has been chastised ever since,” Cyndi Steele said.
Edgar Steele also wrote a book called “Defensive Racism: An Unapologetic Examination of Racial Differences,” penned essays on his website, conspiracypenpal.com, hosted a webcast that was popular among white supremacists, and is regularly cited on racist Internet message boards.
Wendy Olson, U.S. attorney in Idaho, said she and case agents had never heard of Steele before Fairfax told the FBI he’d been hired by Steele to kill his wife.
“It simply is not a case of the government targeting him or of anyone targeting him,” Olson said in a news conference. “Edgar Steele chose to target himself when he offered money to Larry Fairfax for the murder of his wife.”
Olson said the U.S. attorney’s office extends “our sympathy and our empathy to Cyndi Steele.”
“We know that this was a difficult case for her, that this case is a tragedy for her and her family in many ways, and we wish her well in the future,” Olson said.