Murder-for-hire plot nets Steele 50-year term
Former Aryan Nations lawyer, wife blast conviction
Professing his innocence and blaming a vast government conspiracy, self-described “attorney for the damned” Edgar Steele was sentenced Wednesday to 50 years in federal prison for a foiled murder-for-hire plot that targeted his wife and mother-in-law with a car bomb.
In an hour-and-a-half rant before U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Coeur d’Alene, Steele called the case a conspiracy by the federal government, anti-hate groups and the Russian mafia to silence him for his political views and legal work.
“I, too, am a victim. My entire family is a victim. In fact, all of American society is a victim in this case,” said Steele, 66, who defended Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler in the 2000 landmark civil case that bankrupted the racist group. He also authored a book, “Defensive Racism,” and wrote essays on a website, ConspiracyPenPal.com, from his home near Shepherd Lake, southeast of Sandpoint.
“I am not delusional. I am a well-educated professional with a long track record of honesty,” Steele said, wearing a gray sweatshirt and orange jail pants. He vowed to continue fighting to prove his innocence.
“If I finally have to fire every lawyer in the country and hire myself, I’ll do it,” Steele said.
Winmill said it’s “human temptation to respond to claims about government corruption but it’s best not to.”
In Steele’s case, “a conspiracy can only be found if you ignore the facts and your worldview dictates that there’s a conspiracy everywhere,” Winmill said.
Steele’s wife, Cyndi Steele, stood up when Winmill asked her husband to stand while he was sentenced. Cyndi Steele left the courtroom sobbing after her husband’s sentencing and repeatedly yelled “You’re all wrong!” at media and law enforcement in the courthouse hallway. The Steeles have three children, who were not in court Wednesday.
A jury in Boise convicted Steele of four felonies May 5 for paying his handyman, Larry Fairfax, in silver to kill Steele’s wife and mother-in-law with a car bomb. Prosecutors said his aim was to spend time with a young Ukrainian woman he met online. Steele called his wife after his arrest and told her to say the voice on the FBI recordings was not his, which led to a conviction for victim tampering.
Steele’s been in jail since his arrest in June 2010. Fairfax is serving 27 months for placing a pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele’s car and not telling authorities. Steele’s law license has been suspended in Washington; he relinquished his license in Idaho to avoid disciplinary proceedings.
In an angry and tearful statement to the court, Cyndi Steele blasted the case against her husband, saying it was rife with government corruption. She called the recordings of her husband discussing the murder plot with Fairfax “elaborate fabrications.”
Her statement was cut short because she repeatedly told Winmill she wasn’t a victim of her husband, and Winmill said the speaking time was reserved for victims.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan cited Edgar Steele’s “long, long pattern of manipulative behavior” when recommending the 600-month sentence, which Winmill said is the longest he’s seen as a federal judge.
“He has repeatedly lashed out rather than accept responsibility,” Whelan said. “Never once has this defendant accepted responsibility for his own conduct. Not once.”
She said Cyndi Steele’s belief that her husband is innocent makes her husband’s crimes “no less real, no less dangerous to the community.”
Steele’s lawyer, Wesley Hoyt, asked for him to be sentenced to time served. Steele reiterated that request.
“I have been improperly charged. I have been improperly tried, and I’m about to be sentenced improperly,” he said. “I demand to be released now.”
Steele criticized a U.S. marshal for looking amused during his speech. He said the idea that the government would frame him is “not so far-fetched.”
“It happens. It happens in this government and it happens in international governments,” Steele said. “These are not the lunatic rantings of a madman.”
He described errors at trial by his lawyer, Robert McAllister, of Colorado, who has since been disbarred for stealing money in a case unrelated to Steele’s. He blamed law enforcement for taking the word of Fairfax, whom he described as “oafish” and a “self-admitted pipe bomber,” over his own.
He also asked Winmill to sentence him to a thousand years in prison, saying any sentence was a life sentence at his age.
“Put me in the Guinness Book of World Records,” Steele said.
After Steele was sentenced, Assistant U.S. Attorney D. Marc Haws, who prosecuted the case with Whelan, said, “Mr. Steele is responsible for everything that has befallen him. The court, federal agents, the jury have all properly fulfilled their roles, making sure justice was done.”