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A North Idaho attorney convicted of hiring a hitman to kill his wife should spend 50 years in prison for his “chillingly calculated” crimes, prosecutors said in recent court filings.
Edgar J. Steele, 65, is to be sentenced Nov. 9 at 9 a.m. in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene. A jury convicted him of four felonies May 5 after a two-week trial in Boise for paying his handyman, Larry Fairfax, in silver to kill his wife and mother-in-law with a car bomb so he could spend time with a young Ukrainian woman he met online.
“To plan the murder of an innocent spouse is unthinkably heartless,” federal prosecutors Marc Haws and Traci Whelan wrote in a 13-page sentencing memorandum filed Oct. 24 in U.S. District Court. “To manipulate a financially desperate neighbor to commit the murder with a violent car bomb explosion is depraved.”
Prosecutors compared Steele, a former lawyer to Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and the self-described “attorney for the damned,” to Raskolnikov, the main character in Fyodor Dostoyevski's novel “Crime and Punishment.”
“In his plotting, Edgar Steele seems modeled on Raskolnikov: too far above the law, and too smart to get caught,” prosecutors wrote.
Steele's wife, Cyndi Steele, (pictured with attorney Wesley Hoyt after the verdict in May) believes he is innocent and a victim of a government conspiracy to silence him.
Fairfax secretly recorded Steele discussing the plot but was arrested after Steele was because Cyndi Steele found a pipe bomb under her car that Fairfax had affixed weeks earlier.
Fairfax told FBI agents he didn't tell them about the bomb because it was rigged not to work and was no longer attached to the vehicle, but testimony at trial showed otherwise. Fairfax was sentenced in May to 27 months in prison.
Steele's lawyer Robert McAllister was disbarred in Colorado shortly after the trial for ethical violations unrelated to Steele's case, including misusing client money. In a motion for a new trial, McAllister has said he was ineffective as Steele's counsel during trial because he was distracted by his pending disbarment.
The motion has not yet been ruled on by the court.
Steele's new lawyer, Wesley Hoyt, did not return a phone call seeking comment today.
The minimum sentences for each of Steele's convictions - use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder for hire, use of explosive materials to commit a federal felony, possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence and tampering with a victim - is 40 years.
But prosecutors say such a sentence “would not adequately reflect the totality of the Defendant's actions in plotting to kill his wife, commissioning pipe bombs and obstructing or tampering with a witness into consideration; it would punish him only for the use of an explosive or destructive device.”
They are recommending U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill sentence Steele to 600 months in prison, or 50 years.
Prosecutors said Steele had opportunities to change his mind but because “heartlessly more insistent” that Fairfax (pictured) “get this job done” by any means, including a gun shot or car crash. (Federal agents actually told Steele his wife had been run off the road in a ruse just before his arrest. They say he stood up and a fecal matter filled the air when they told him they actually knew of the murder plot.)
In the sentencing memorandum, prosecutors include several quotes from Steele's recording with Fairfax prior to his arrest. A sampling: “Go get, get this job done, Larry.” “Okay, I'm counting on it. I mean, Larry I am really up against it, it has to happen right now.” “Well, you better not get your f**king ass caught.”
Prosecutors also quoted Steele discussing the need for Fairfax to make sure Cyndi Steele dies because he doesn't want to take care of a paraplegic.
“These few, chilling words from Steele's own heart, mind and mouth establish the outrageous circumstances of his offenses,” prosecutors wrote.
Steele had no previous criminal record and was a long-time attorney handling civil cases. Steele has said his ideologies and defense of racists like Butler motivated his prosecution, but prosecutors say “nothing could be further from the truth.”
“His ideologies were no reason to bring this case, and his ideologies were no dissuasion from bringing this case,” prosecutors wrote. “Incarceration is warranted in this case, not because of what Edgar Steele's ideologies re, nor because of who Edgar Steele is, but because of what he did to commit these crimes.”
A North Idaho attorney convicted last week of hiring his handyman to kill his wife and mother-in-law has requested a new trial.
Lawyers for Edgar J. Steele, 65, filed a motion for a new trial Thursday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d'Alene.
The motion is sealed. Lawyer Robert McAllister, of Colorado, declined to discuss its contents, and Gary Amendola did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Steele faces at least 30 years in prison when he's sentenced in August.
A jury convicted him May 5 of use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and tampering with a victim after a week-long trial in Boise.
The hitman-turned FBI informant, Larry Fairfax, was sentenced to 27 months in prison Wednesday for a pipe bomb he attached to Cyndi Steele's SUV.
Cyndi Steele believes her husband was framed because of his defense of clients like the late Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations.
Edgar Steele's lawyers, Robert McAllister and Gary Amendola, obtained selections of Larry Fairfax's handwritten journal notes last week after U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill issued a ruling he now says was a mistake.
Now prosecutors are investigating whether McAllister and/or Amendola orders by allowing Cyndi Steele to read those notes.
Cyndi Steele read a statement at Fairfax's sentencing Wednesday that Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan says contained information directly from Fairfax's notes.
Whelan said her office will investigate; Winmill said appropriate action will be taken if Steele's lawyer did violate the court order.
Fairfax (pictured) was sentenced to 27 months in prison Wednesday.
A handyman hired by a North Idaho lawyer to kill his wife was sentenced today to 27 months in prison for an explosive device he strapped to the intended victim’s car. Larry Fairfax, 50, never told investigators about the pipe bomb when he said he’d been hired by Edgar Steele and agreed to secretly record conversations about the plot for the FBI, which led to Steele’s arrest June 11. Fairfax was arrested June 15 after Coeur d’Alene auto shop workers found the 12-inch bomb when Cyndi Steele arrived for a routine oil check. He told the FBI he’d put the device on the car in late May to make Edgar Steele think the plan was proceeding, but that he rigged the device so it couldn’t explode/Meghann M. Cuniff, SR. More here.
Edgar Steele, former Aryan Nations shyster, was found guilty late last week of hiring some thug to blow his wife, Cyndi, (and her mother) to smithereens. Can’t say I didn’t see that train a’coming. I was a tad disappointed, however, to learn that the federal jurors in Boise didn’t also find Cyndi guilty of being the thickest brick on the planet. Far be it from me to pick on the victim of record. But Mrs. Steele’s misguided faith in her hubby is not just dumb, it’s Larry the Cable Guy dumb/Doug Clark, SR. More here.
Question: What advice would you give to Cyndi Steele?
Idaho U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson is pictured after the verdict. In back, from left to right, are two unidentified officials, Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan, FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws. Above that photo is a slideshow of photos showing Edgar Steele through the years.
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, pictured with her attorney, Wesley Hoyt. vowed to appeal the verdict. She believes her husband was targeted because of his defense of unpopular clients.
A previous version of the story with more than 20 reader comments is available here.
A no-contact order between the Steeles has been lifted, and they are free to visit in jail whenever visiting hours permit.
A background piece on Steele is available here.
Steele was convicted of the following felonies:
1. Use of interstate commerce facilities in the commission for murder (for directing Larry Fairfax to drive to Oregon to kill his wife.) Punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
2. Aiding and abetting use of explosive material to commit a federal felony (for a pipe bomb Fairfax strapped to Edgar Steele's car at Steele's direction so authorities would think his wife's killer also targeted him.) Punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
3. Aiding and abetting possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence (for the pipe bomb on Cyndi Steele's SUV.) Punishable by a minimum 30 years in prison.
4. Tampering with a victim (for a phone call he made to Cyndi Steele after his arrest). Punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
There's no doubt that the federal government has evidence in its case against Edgar Steele, his lawyer says, but all that evidence points back to Larry Fairfax, who claims to have been hired by Steele to kill his wife and mother-in-law.
Larry Fairfax, the main witness in the Edgar Steele murder-for-hire trial, plans to write a book based on the case called “An Act of Defiance: Built on Lies and Deceit by the FBI.”
In what defense lawyer Robert McAllister said was “great news,” a man hired by the defense to refute the authenticity of the FBI recordings in the Edgar Steele case will be allowed to testify.
Edgar Steele's 20-year-old daughter told jurors today that she doesn't believe the recording of her father discussing a plot to kill her mother is authentic.
A longtime friend of Edgar Steele told jurors that he was “shocked” when he learned of Steele's arrest and never saw Steele threaten or harm anyone in the more than 40 years he's known him.
Jeff Miller, a partner with George's Cyclotron Inc., who also works with Hendry Ranch Wines in Napa Valley, Calif., said he met Steele through a mutual friend in the late 1960s or early 1970s in the San Francisco area.
Their families socialized, and Steele's children still refer to Miller as “Uncle Jeff,” he told jurors. Miller said he met Cyndi Steele a year or two before she married Edgar, and that he's never known Steele to threaten or harm his wife or children.
“Ed is a very strict parent, as am I. So sometimes you come down on the kids. But that's our job,” Miller said.
He said he learned of Steele's arrest when Steele's son, Rex, called him.
“It was quite a shock,” Miller said. Miller said he didn't know of the Steeles' divorce petition in 2000 until Sunday night.
Under cross examination by prosecutors, Miller acknowledged that he didn't know of the Steeles' marriage problems and that Edgar Steele never confided to him that he was looking for women on Match.com.
Miller said Steele once tried to enlist his help with research into the Russian bride scam. He said Steele called and asked him to go to a website and find a particular person, and that it would cost him “a couple hundred dollars.”
But Miller's wife told him it wasn't a good idea. “I called him back that same day and told him my wife wouldn't let me do it,” Miller said.
Also testifying this morning was a Sagle, Idaho, man who traveled with Fairfax to check on a pipe bomb attached to Cyndi Steele's SUV.
James Maher, Fairfax's cousin, told jurors today that he spent about 10 seconds trying to see if the device was still there.
Maher said he couldn't get under the 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor because neighbors near the Oregon City, Ore., home of Steele's mother-in-law were watching.
Maher said he wanted to see if the pipe bomb was gone “because I thought Cyndi Steele was a really nice lady.”
Maher admitted that Fairfax once said something about appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show. “That was like an over-the-top thing,” Maher said. “But yeah, I thought it might work out for him; I don't know.”
But, Maher added, “there was no braggery involved.”
He said Fairfax said he couldn't check himself because Cyndi Steele might see him. “Then the jig would be up,” Maher said.
Edgar Steele told a 25-year-old Ukrainian woman after his arrest on murder-for-hire charges that the Anti-Defamation League had manufactured a recording of him plotting to kill his wife using a collection of secret recordings by Larry Fairfax and thousands of hours of online audio files.
Steele wrote in a letter to Tatyana Loginova that the case against him began when Fairfax stole $45,000 in silver, though prosecutors have shown jurors that Steele cashed in about that same amount of silver a couple months before his arrest.
“This has been a huge shock to me but not really a surprise; they have been after me for a long time because of my outspoken criticism” of the federal government and U.S. power brokers, Steele wrote Loginova.
FBI Special Agent Brent Smith, who is based in the Ukraine, read from the letter this morning in U.S. District Court in Boise, the fourth day of testimony in Steele's murder-for-hire trial.
Smith helped with Loginova's deposition in the Ukraine. Loginova declined to travel to the United States to testify, and because she is not a U.S. citizen, she could not be forced to appear.
In a deposition taped in early March, Loginova, through a translator, said she met Steele through an online dating website, exchanged emails and learned about his personal life.
“Did he ever tell you if he had kids?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan asked.
“Yes, he did. They told me that they don't live with him though. He told me that he lives alone,” Loginova said through a translator.
Steele wrote that Loginova could find work, “take care of our babies, make love to me, whatever would make you happy.”
He said he was trying to get his children to mail her a package with a teddy bear, map of the area and other gifts.
“I begin to suspect that my ex may be behind all of this,” Steele writes. “She knows that you are very special to me and I know that's why she has not sent your box as she promised me she would do.”
Loginova said Steele planned to visit Ukraine in August 2010.
She said the two began talking over Skype in May or early June.
Under cross examination, defense lawyer Gary Amendola emphasized that Loginova doesn't actually know if Steele is the one who wrote the letter.
Steele's wife, Cyndi Steele, testified last week that her husband was corresponding with Loginova and other women as part of his research into the Russian mail order bride scam.
The prosecution has rested. Judge Winmill has denied a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Steele.
The defense will begin presenting its case shortly. Steele's wife and daughter have attended each day of the trial. Hayden resident Deon Masker, wife of white supremacist Richard Masker, is at the trial for the first time today.
This pipe bomb was attached to Cyndi Steele's car June 15 when she went to a Coeur d'Alene auto shop for a routine oil change. The photo was shown to jurors today in Edgar Steele's murder-for-hire trial.
BOISE - Edgar Steele's lawyers have questioned the reliability of recordings that show their client discussing the plot to kill his wife with alleged hitman-turned-FBI-informant Larry Fairfax.
BOISE - Jurors this morning saw emails Edgar Steele sent to a 25-year-old European woman with whom prosecutors say he was seeking an intimate relationship. The messages were among more than 14,000 Steele sent through a Ukrainian online dating website in the months before his arrest last June.
BOISE - “This phone call is protected under husband-wife privilege, even if they're recording it, they can't use it for any purpose.”
Edgar Steele said that to his wife, Cyndi, in a June phone call played for jurors today in his murder-for-hire case in U.S. District Court in Boise. The call led to a victim tampering charge against him.
These are portions of phone calls from the Kootenai County Jail that were played for jurors today in the murder-for-hire trial of Edgar Steele.
BOISE - Cyndi Steele testified today that she knew her husband was talking to European women online but said the communication was part of his research into Russian mail order brides.
Idaho State Police Trooper Jess Spike has notified families of about two dozen deaths in his career. Never has he seen a reaction as stoic as that of Edgar Steele at his Sagle-area home last June when Spike told him his wife, Cyndi Steele, had died in a car crash after being run off the road near Portland, Ore., Spike testified today. “It was flat, paused, almost contrived. It was as if he was trying to retrieve something in an archive and come up with what the answer was. It wasn't natural,” Spike said. “He kind of choked up. It appeared as though he was trying to develop tears, and no tears developed”/Meghann Cuniff, Sirens & Gavels. More here.
BOISE - Idaho State Police Trooper Jess Spike has notified families of about two dozen deaths in his career.
BOISE - When Larry Fairfax spoke with Edgar Steele about a plot to kill Steele's wife, he asked the North Idaho lawyer why he didn't divorce his wife instead.
In this sketch by Ward Hooper, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws is shown at the podium during the trial of Edgar J. Steele today. Steele is shown at right.
BOISE - Larry Fairfax told jurors in the Edgar Steele murder-for-hire trial that though he accepted money from Steele, he never intended to kill anyone and told the FBI about the plot because he feared retribution.
BOISE - The day Edgar Steele was arrested for an alleged murder plot against his wife, 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.
BOISE - The murder-for-hire case against Edgar Steele is really the work of financially strapped man desperate to cover up his theft of silver from Steele's home, defense lawyer Robert McAllister said this morning.
BOISE - Prosecutors say the case against Edgar Steele is simple.
The Sagle, Idaho, lawyer accused of hiring a man to kill his wife was also developing “some interest in some young Russian women” and often chatted with them online, Haws said.
BOISE - Thirteen women and one man will hear the case of a North Idaho attorney accused of hiring a man to kill his wife and mother-in-law.
BOISE - Jury selection is underway in the trial of a North Idaho lawyer accused of hiring a hitman to kill his wife and mother-in-law.
Edgar J. Steele, 65, faces at least 30 years in prison if convicted of his most serious charge - possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence.
Steele also is charged with use of interstate commerce to commission murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a federal felony and tampering with a victim. The tampering charge stems from a phone call he made to his wife, Cyndi Steele, from the Kootenai County Jail after his arrest.
A pool of 65 potential jurors was called to the federal courthouse in Boise this morning. Fourteen will be selected; two as alternates.
A couple jurors have already been dismissed because of scheduling conflicts and financial difficulties.
About 20 potential jurors said they'd heard of the case before today, but all said they could still be impartial. One woman said she heard about the case from her sister who lives in North Idaho.
“I would hope I would be able to put it out of my mind, yes,” she said.
She was stricken from the pool not because of that incident but because she said serving would be a personal hardship because she needs to help her husband with their cattle farm.
One man said he told a friend he couldn't make lunch today because of jury selection. The friend replied via email that the “Steele case” was underway and that he should “tell them you don't like lawyers,” the man told U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill.
He remains in the jury pool.
Steele's supporters say he has been framed by the government to silence him for his views and legal work. Steele calls himself “attorney for the damned” and is well known for defending the Aryan Nations against the lawsuit that bankrupted the racist group.
Cyndi Steele believes he is innocent and has criticized prosecutors for not pursing more serious charges against the alleged hitman-turned-FBI informant, Larry Fairfax. Fairfax (pictured) is expected to testify at trial.
Fairfax was arrested June 15 after Coeur d’Alene auto shop workers found a pipe bomb under Cyndi Steele’s car. The FBI says Fairfax put it there but never told investigators.
Fairfax pleaded guilty last October to two federal weapons charges and is to be sentenced after Steele's trial.
Prosecutors say Steele wanted his wife murdered because he “had been establishing a relationship with a young woman who lives outside of the United States,” according to court documents. Cyndi Steele says her husband was helping the woman in relation to his work fighting human trafficking.
Steele's lawyers wanted to call expert witnesses who believe the recordings of Fairfax and Steele discussing the plot have been altered, but a judge rejected that last week.
The trial was moved to Boise after it was delayed at the last minute March 7 in Coeur d'Alene.
Court is scheduled until 5 p.m. today. Opening statements could take place this afternoon.
Trial for the rest of the week is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
BOISE - Edgar Steele’s defense won’t be able to call two expert witnesses it lined up to question the authenticity of FBI tapes of Steele talking with Larry Fairfax about an alleged murder-for-hire plot against Steele’s wife, Cyndi, a federal judge in Boise ruled Thursday.
The testimony and expertise from one proposed expert was unreliable, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill found, and the qualifications and testimony of the second were irrelevant, at least at this point.
Steele, a self-described “attorney for the damned” who’s represented clients including the Aryan Nations, goes to trial on Tuesday on four felony charges related to an alleged murder-for-hire plot to kill his wife and mother-in-law; he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Cyndi Steele’s lawyer, Wesley Hoyt, is the one who contacted the proposed experts and sent them the FBI tapes. “Mrs. Steele believes that the tapes were manipulated,” he said after the judge’s ruling Thursday. “The victim is totally supporting the accused. She believes in his innocence.”
A judge will review evidence in the Edgar Steele murder-for-hire case at a hearing Wednesday in Boise.
Federal prosecutors are concerned about reports from two defense experts that they say are repetitive and lack the substance needed to be admitted at trial, which is set to begin with jury selection next Tuesday in Boise. One report is a “copy and paste” of the other, prosecutors say.
Trial was to begin March 7, but prosecutors wanted defense expert Dr. George Papcun excluded from trial, and U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said he couldn't issue a ruling then. Prosecutors then joined in the defense motion to continue trial, leading to the delay.
Winmill said he would review Papcun's report at the evidence hearing. On March 17, defense filed an expert notice for Dennis Walsh, but prosecutors say Walsh's report is identical to Papcun's report. They've asked for Walsh's testimony to be excluded or for him to provide “a more full report,” accoridng to court documents.
Winmill is to consider those issues on Wednesday.
In a memorandum filed Monday, prosecutors cited case law that says courts “may conclude that there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered” and exclude testimony.
They said neither Papcun nor Walsh submitted reports that indicate their testimony will be based on sufficient facts or reliable principals.
“Interestingly, the opinion provided in George Papcun's report seems to have been “cut and pasted” into Dennis Walsh's report verbatim,” according to the memo.
The reports say the recordings, which investigators say show Steele discussing the murder plot with hitman-turned-FBI-informant Larry Fairfax, are unreliable and “do not accurately reflect the sounds and conversations that actually occurred.”
But prosecutors say they do not offer details.
“The experts unsupported opinion that the voices on the recordings are dubbed or do not belong to Steele is designed to confuse the jury,” accoridng to the memo.
Steele's lawyers, Gary Amendola and Robert McAllister, were not immediately available for comment.
Steele was to undergo a mental health examination last week in Boise at the request of prosecutors.
His wife, Cyndi Steele (left), said he will not be presenting an insanity defense, rather, Steele's lawyers will argue that he was under the influence of medication and could have been easily influenced and manipulated by Fairfax.
Those expected to testify for the defense include Daryl James Hollingsworth (right), a Bonner County Jail inmate who recently pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.
Hollingsworth may have had contact with Steele and/or Fairfax while in jail.
A forensic audio examiner with the FBI and a private forensic consultant are expected to be called as prosecution witnesses at Edgar Steele's trial.
David Snyder works for the FBI in Quantico, Va., and has reviewed reports by defense experts regarding the authenticity of audio recordings that reportedly show Steele discussing a plot to murder his wife with hitman-turned FBI informant Larry Fairfax.
Snyder has been conducting tests on the records and the cording device to rebut defense claims that the recordings are manufactured.
His supervisor, Kenneth Marr, who reviewed and approved Snyder's work, is also listed as a witness in case Snyder can't travel to the trial, which is scheduled to begin with jury selection April 26 in Boise.
Dr. Gina Richardson, of Arlington, Va., also reviewed the recording and prepared transcripts.
“She determined the recordings are true and valid representations of the words spoken by the parties to the conversation,” according court documents filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. “Her unique expertise may be represented to rebut any claims of Dr. George Papcun or Dennis Walsh that the recordings do not represent a true and valid representation of reality or that they do not accurately reflect the sounds and conversations that actually occurred.”
Richardson, who earned a doctorate in linguistics from Georgetown University, has been a forensic consultant since 1989.
Steele was to undergo a mental health examination last week in Boise at the request of prosecutors.
His wife, Cyndi Steele, said he will not be presenting an insanity defense, rather, Steele's lawyers will argue that he was under the influence of medication and could have been easily influenced and manipulated by Fairfax.
Those expected to testify for the defense include Daryl James Hollingsworth, a Bonner County Jail inmate who recently pleaded guilty to aggravated assault.
Hollingsworth may have had contact with Steele and/or Fairfax while in jail.