A 71-year-old long-time Coeur d’Alene businessman admitted this week that he hired an ex-convict to murder another man.
James R. Chase pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to intent to commit murder for hire.
The elderly man now faces a maximum of 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced July 7.
But, “With his age and his physical condition I think any sort of sentence may be a death sentence,” said Ruben Iniguez, Chase’s federal defense attorney.
In pleading guilty, James Chase - the long-time owner of Chase Enterprises - admitted that he provided a former employee with a gun, bombs and money and asked the man to kill Michael Lares.
Lares, who previously lived in Coeur d’Alene, bought Chase’s marine construction business in 1992 and proceeded to take it into bankruptcy, according to court records.
“I guess to simply say that he went bankrupt is to put it nicely,” Iniguez said. “In Mr. Chase’s perspective, he ran the business into the ground. It was much more than a business, it was his name. It was his life’s work.”
Despite the death plot against him, Lares was never injured.
James Chase owned and operated Chase Enterprises from 1955 to 1992. In 1992 Lares bought the business and soon began failing to hold up his end of some customer contracts - all while still working under the Chase name, the defense attorney said.
Chase was upset because he felt the customers thought he was running the marine construction business so poorly. Lares also allegedly destroyed some of Chase’s barge and marine equipment.
“With his hard work and sweat (Chase) built it up and then he sold it and less than two years later it was virtually nothing,” Iniguez said. “He believed his name and reputation in the community and industry was terribly damaged.”
When Lares went bankrupt, Chase bought the business back but lost $150,000 in the transaction.
In May 1996, Chase ran into a former employee named Samuel Cook who had previously been convicted of a felony, according to court documents.
The elderly man asked Cook to find Lares and later paid him $2,500 for expenses.
When Cook found Lares in Nevada, Chase offered him $10,000 to kill the man. Chase gave Cook a gun, ammunition and a homemade silencer.
Cook reported the proposition to Kootenai County sheriffs deputies, who in turn asked the FBI for assistance. Cook agreed to cooperate with authorities as a confidential informant.
So began a two month investigation during which time Cook wore electronic recording equipment. Investigators listened as Chase talked about the murder he wanted. They listened as he told Cook that Lares should instead be blown up.
Chase eventually gave the felon two homemade bombs, according to court records.
On Nov. 11, Cook - while wearing recording equipment - told the elderly man that he had killed Lares. Cook gave Chase a photo of Lares, in which it appeared Lares had been shot in the head and was laying in a pool of blood.
“Here’s the picture of him that’s what you wanted done isn’t it?” Cook asked the man.
“That’s what I wanted,” Chase responded, according to court documents.
In reality, the photos had been doctored by the FBI, said James Peters, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case.
Chase was arrested and charged on Nov. 13 with causing someone to travel across state lines with intent to murder.
He has since been allowed to stay at his home with electronic monitoring.
The prosecutor says Chase will be given some consideration at sentencing for admitting his wrongdoing but estimates that Chase could be facing between 7 and 9 years in prison for the crime.
But Iniguez said he intends to ask the judge for a lesser sentence, considering Chase’s age and his lack of prior criminal record.
“This was an unfortunate exercise of poor judgment in a life - if one examines it - really is an exemplary one,” Iniguez said of his client. “I think he lost perspective.”
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