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Murder plot victim slams federal prosecutors

In a 16-page affidavit prosecutors suggested may have originated with her jailed husband, alleged murder plot target Cyndi Steele rails against a plea deal arranged with FBI informant Larry Fairfax and accuses the U.S. Attorney’s Office of violating her rights as a victim.

The document, filed under seal but emailed to the Spokesman-Review by an associate of Steele’s, can be read here

In it, Steele calls for Fairfax to be charged with conspiracy to commit murder or attempted murder and says the FBI told her about murder plot co-conspirators who still have not been arrested. She claims the FBI knew of the 12-inch pipe bomb affixed to her SUV (pictured) before auto shop employees discovered it June 15 and says they allowed her to drive from Oregon to North Idaho knowing the device was on her car. 

Steele says her fear over the bomb was fueled by death threats made against her family, including her children, “whenever my husband would take political positions on various issues,” according to the affidavit. “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….Some of these death threats were made by persons affiliated with the Anti-Defamation League, an organization that has professed a strong dislike for my husband and some of his political positions.”

The Anti-Defamation League did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Steele called for the plea hearing to be postponed, but U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill declined, noting she’d filed her request that morning despite knowing of the hearing for two weeks.

“I have to question either the motive or the sincerity of their request,” Winmill said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said the affidavit contains opinions and statements she believes aren’t true. She said Cyndi Steele has made it clear she wants nothing to do with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. She’s been in contact with the office in two occasions - to retrieve her husband’s computer and to retrieve silver she says Fairfax stole but investigators say was given to him as a partial payment in the murder-for-hire plot, Whelan said.

Fairfax’s plea hearing was instead postponed because he was reluctant to admit that the bomb he attached to Cyndi Steele’s car had the potential to explode.

Read my full story here.

Charges against Steele carry 30+ years

A former lawyer for the Aryan Nations jailed in an alleged murder-for-hire plot is to appear in federal court in Coeur d’Alene next week on three additional charges related to jailhouse phone calls and explosives discovered after his arrest. 

The new charges against Edgar J. Steele, 65, could put him in prison for at least 30 years. Steele already faced a possible 10 years in prison for an alleged plot federal agents say began in December and targeted his wife, Cyndi Steele, and mother-in-law.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

Steele seeks to keep feds out of client files

A former lawyer for the Aryan Nations is asking a judge to stop federal investigators from searching materials seized from his North Idaho home law office.

Edgar J. Steele is concerned government searches may compromise attorney-client privilege, according to documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene. 

“There is a concern that Mr. Steele represents clients and groups that are of interest to the government,” wrote Steele’s federal public defenders, Roger Peven and Kailey Moran.

Steele is accused of hiring someone to kill his wife and mother-in-law. He’s being housed at the Spokane County Jail after a raid June 11 at his home on Talache Road, east of Shepherd Lake near Sagle, where the FBI believes he plotted with Sagle resident Larry Fairfax to use pipe bombs kill Cynthia Steele and her mother-in-law. Fairfax went to the FBI and secretly recorded Steele talking of the plot, leading to Steele’s arrest, according to court documents.

Fairfax was arrested June 15 after Coeur d’Alene auto shop workers found a pipe bomb under Cynthia Steele’s car - the FBI says Fairfax put it there but never told investigators.

Fairfax waived a grand jury indictment last week and is charged through complaint with possession of an unregistered firearm and unlawful manufacturing of a firearm. He’s being held without bail.

Steele’s lawyers say they’ve received copies of conversations between Fairfax and Steele, but no other evidence, including the items seized from Steele’s home, has been provided. The motion filed Monday seeks a preliminarily injunction to stop the search of Steele’s computers and files “until the warrant can be received to determine if proper procedures are in place to protect the privacy of the information seized.”

Moran did not return a phone call seeking comment. The U.S. Attorney’s Office hasn’t yet filed a response, and no hearing for the motion has been scheduled.

Past coverage:

June 22: Steele’s phone calls to wife, son released

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

Steele’s phone calls to wife, son released

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Edgar Steele’s call to his son
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Edgar Steele’s call to his wife

Federal murder-for-hire suspect Edgar Steele will stay in jail pending trial after a judge found he had attempted to intimidate potential witnesses in the case – his wife and son.

In a detention hearing Tuesday, federal prosecutors played two tapes of phone conversations Steele had with his wife, Cyndi, and his son, Rex, while being held at Kootenai County Jail on June 13.

On the tapes, Steele warns his wife that she will be contacted by government officials the following morning and will be asked to authenticate his voice on recordings that he tells her are doctored to sound as if he’s hiring a hit man to kill her. He pleads with her to say that it’s not his voice she hears on the tapes.

Listen to the recordings above.

Read Alison Boggs’s story on today’s hearing here.

Past coverage:

June 21: No bail for suspect in pipe bomb murder plot

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Suspect in murder plot held without bail

A suspected hitman-turned-informant who federal investigators say didn’t tell them he’d already planted a bomb on the car of a murder-plot target was ordered held without bail on Monday.

U.S. Magistrate Candy Dale called her decision to keep Larry A. Fairfax, 49, behind bars “very difficult” but said he was a danger to the community.

Fairfax has been in jail since June 11 after auto shop employees found a pipe bomb attached to a car brought in by Steele’s wife Cyndi Steele for an oil change. The Sagle man told investigators the week before that he’d been hired by Steele to murder Steele’s wife and mother-in-law but didn’t tell them about the pipe bomb, federal agents testified on Monday.

The two-hour hearing included testimony from Fairfax’s 26-year-old son, wife of 31 years and a retired judge and lawyer, Jim Michaud, who called Fairfax “about the hardest working guy I know.”

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 20: Arrest puts Steele back in public eye

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Suspect in Steele’s murder plot due in court

 The man accused of planting a pipe bomb under Edgar Steele’s wife’s SUV is due in federal court in Coeur d’Alene this afternoon for a bail hearing.

Larry A. Fairfax, 49, has been in custody since last Monday night.

The Sagle man apparently told federal agents about an alleged murder plot hatched by Steele against his wife, Cyndi Steele, and his mother-in-law but didn’t tell them about the pipe bomb. He was arrested after employees at an auto shop found it when Cyndi Steele came in for an oil change about 12:30 p.m. lat Tuesday. Her son picked her up, and the two were at Edgar Steele’s first court appearance at 4:30 p.m.

Steele is being housed at the Spokane County Jail. He’s due in court tomorrow morning for a bail hearing. He has a public defender but said last week that he hopes to hire Coeur d’Alene attorney Glen Walker, former Kootenia County prosecutor.

As I explain in this Sunday story, Steele (pictured right in 2000) calls himself “the attorney for the damned,” has gained national attention for his work with high-profile clients and was a coveted speaker in the national racist movement for years.

Check out photos of Steele over the years here.

Past coverage:

June 17: Pipe bomb suspect in federal custody

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Informant forgets to tell FBI about pipe bomb

A man who approached federal agents last week about an alleged murder-for-hire plot hatched by a former lawyer for the Aryan Nations may have left out a key detail: He’d already rigged an explosive to the intended victim’s car.

 Larry Andrew Fairfax, 49, remains in federal custody after appearing in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene on Wednesday on firearms charges related to a pipe bomb attached to the bottom of Edgar Steele’s wife’s SUV Tuesday. Auto shop employees found the explosive Tuesday during an oil change.

Although federal agents won’t confirm whether it was Fairfax who tipped them last week to the alleged murder plot, citing rules for protecting the identity of confidential informants, they said Wednesday they are not looking for any additional suspects in the case.

“There’s no pending public safety threat,” said Don Robinson, supervisory agent for the FBI’s Coeur d’Alene office.

Fairfax was arrested Tuesday at Coeur d’Alene police headquarters after he told investigators he made the bomb at his home on Ponderosa Road near Sagle, about six miles from Steele’s Talache Road home, which was raided by federal agents Friday.

Read the rest of my story here.

Past coverage:

June 16: Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

June 16: Bomb found on SUV registered to suspect

Steele: ‘This is a very emotional situation’

Appearing for the first time on federal charges related to an alleged murder-for-hire plot, Edgar Steele described himself Tuesday as a “frail” and “elderly” man who’s undergone four surgeries in the past six months, including open heart surgery. He also blasted the federal agents for seizing what he said were attorney-client files regarding federal cases with pending appeals.

The 64-year-old attorney, known for his unsuccessful defense of the Aryan Nations in the landmark 2000 case that bankrupted the racist group, represented himself during the hearing and pleaded “absolutely, completely not guilty” to a charge that he hired a man to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

The charge, use of interstate commerce for the commission of murder for hire, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Steele is reportedly on voice record telling an FBI informant “to make sure that they were dead after the accident because Edgar Steele did not want to take care of a paraplegic” and promising to compensate the informant’s family if he got caught, according to a probable cause affidavit prepared by the FBI.

In court Tuesday, Steele said he’s not a flight risk and dispute an apparent claim from the government in confidential records that his writings show he would flee prosecution. He said his writings show just the opposite, that he will stand for what he believes in and respects “the American way.”

Steele appeared most passionate when arguing against the no contact order between him and the alleged victims. At one point, Assistant U.S Attorney Traci Whelan asked Judge Candy Dale to order Steele to address the judge instead of her. Dale did.

After the no contact order was issued, Steele pointed in the direction of his wife and son, prompting Whelan to say to Dale: “Your honor I just ask that the record reflect that Mr. Steele just pointed at his wife and directed her to get up and talk to me.”

Steele said he pointed at his son - not his wife. “I know better than that, your honor,” he said. He added, “Understand that this is a very emotional situation for me.”

Steele has been in custody since Friday after a raid at his home at 1569 Talache Road, about 10 miles south of Sandpoint and just east of Shepherd Lake.

On Tuesday, just hours after a grand jury indicted him, Steele said federal authorities seized “our life savings” during the raid and that he hopes to hire private counsel but isn’t sure he’ll be able to. A public defender will be assigned for his bail hearing, set for next Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. in Coeur d’Alene.

His court appearance yesterday came just hours after a bomb was discovered on his wife’s SUV.

Read the full story: Bomb found on wife’s car just before Steele appears in court

Past coverage:

June 14: North Idaho attorney charged in murder-for-hire plot

1st on Sirens: Edgar Steele’s mugshot

 Edgar J. Steele, the lawyer who represented the Aryan Nations, is due in U.S. District Court in Coeur d’Alene at 3:30 p.m. today on a felony charge of using interstate commerce to commission murder for hire.

Steele was arrested Friday at his Sagle home, accused of trying to hire someone to kill his wife and mother-in-law. He was booked into the Kootenai County Jail.

Read the story here.

Ex-Aryans lawyer arrested in murder plot

A North Idaho attorney who defended the Aryan Nations and its founder, Richard Butler, is scheduled to appear in federal court today on charges he arranged to have his wife and mother-in-law killed.

Edgar J. Steele, 64, (left, in 2001) was arrested Friday at his Sagle home and charged in the murder-for-hire plot.

That was the day the women were to be killed in a car crash meant to look like an accident, according to a probable-cause affidavit.

Read the rest of the story here.

S&G: Murder Plot Brings Month Sentence

A Post Falls couple targeted in what federal agents describe as a murder plot by a former developer received probation this week for a 2008 marijuana bust. Charles Hatridge, 49, was ordered to serve one month in federal prison in addition to four years probation. His wife, Karrie Hatridge, 48, received no prison time and three years probation. The Hatridges, who had no previous criminal records, also will forfeit $50,000 to the federal government/Meghann Cuniff (pictured), Sirens & Gavels. More here.

Question: Is it worth the effort to send Charles Hatridge to federal prison for a month?

Couple in pot-case murder plot sentenced

A Post Falls couple targeted in what federal agents describe as a murder plot by a former developer received probation this week for a 2008 marijuana bust. 

Charles Hatridge, 49, was ordered to serve one month in federal prison in addition to four years probation.

His wife, Karrie Hatridge, 48, received no prison time and three years probation. The Hatridges, who had no previous criminal records, also will forfeit $50,000 to the federal government.

Lawyers for the couple requested probation in lieu of standard prison stences in part because the two accepted responsibility and were minimal participants.U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge sentenced the Hatridges on Monday.

 The Hatridges were main witnesses in the case against Kelly J. Polatis, a businessman acquitted of a marijuana distribution charge by a federal jury last month.

Shortly after Polatis’ acquittal, he was indicted on a charge of using interstate commerce for the commission of murder for hire and tampering with a witness. He’s also suspected of plotting to kill an assistant U.S. attorney working the case.

New court documents say the Hatridges live in fear of Polatis and have taken extra precaution “in living arrangements, travel and association, believing (and we submit knowing) that Mr. Polatis had the ability to punish or seek retribution…,” according to a sentencing memorandum filed May 6. “..From the outset, Mr. Hatridge was fully aware and fully concerned about the dangerousness of Mr. Polatis and expressed his concern over his personal safety to debriefers on more than one occasion.”

Polatis, 40, (left) recently was transferred from the Bonner County Jail to Utah, where he was arraigned Friday, according to federal court records. He’s represented by noted Las Vegas litigator Gavin Grasso, whose past clients include reputed gangsters and former football great O.J. Simpson.

Polatis and the Hatridges were arrested November 2008 after Idaho State Police seized hundreds of marijuana plants from a Post Falls home owned by the Hatridges, owners of American Mortgage Solutions in Rathdrum.

The Hatridges pleaded guilty to conspiracy to manufacture marijuana in August 2009. They told jurors last month that Polatis was the mastermind of the grow operation and approached them about using their rental properties after learning that Charles Hatridge “had limited hydroponic growing experience” and was growing tomato plants at his mortgage office, according to a court documents.

The couple, married since 1981, started the mortgage company in 2006, two years after they moved to Idaho.

They now own Highlands Upholstery, which opened in December 2008, and have returned to their religious roots as Jehovah’s Witnesses, documents say.

Past coverage:

April 21: Feds: Murder plot uncovered in pot case