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 Edgar Steele’s wife, Cyndi Steele, for an oil change. The Sagle man had 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 who called Fairfax “about the hardest working guy I know.”
Dale said Fairfax didn’t appear to be a flight risk but questioned the community’s safety if he was free, noting he didn’t tell his wife about the plot and didn’t mention $10,000 in silver coins Steele gave him when he accepted the murder job. Fairfax traveled to Oregon to make sure the pipe bomb was off Cyndi Steele’s car, but he told his wife he was just checking to see if she was seeing another man as he claimed Steele suspected, according to court testimony.
Dale said she had concerns there may be “other matters that Mr. Fairfax has not shared.”
Fairfax, who has no criminal history, faces two felony charges related to the explosive, which employees at Fast Lane Quick Lube, West Bosanko Avenue and U.S. Highway 95, found on the 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor June 15 after Steele drove it in for an oil change about 12:30 p.m.
Fairfax said he’d placed the bomb under the car May 30 but rigged it so it didn’t explode.
“The fact of the matter is this defendant stopped a murder,” said John Miller, Fairfax’s public defender.
Cyndi Steele was at the federal courthouse hours after the bomb was discovered for her husband’s bail hearing. Dale has since issued a no contact order between the couple, who have been married since 1985. Edgar Steele, known for his unsuccessful defense of the Aryan Nations in the lawsuit that bankrupted the group, is in custody at the Spokane County Jail; he’s due in court this morning for hearing to determine if he’ll remain there without bail.
The case began June 9 when Fairfax told FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka he’d been hired by Steele, who he said he’d known for 20 years, to kill Steele’s wife and mother-in-law. He said he’d already been paid $10,000 in silver coins, received $400 for travel expenses to Oregon, where Steele’s mother-in-law lives, and was to receive $25,000 for the murders, then $100,000 if an auto insurance claim paid off.
The FBI covertly monitored two meetings between Fairfax and Steele, then raided Steele’s home on Talache Road, about 10 miles southeast of Sandpoint, June 11. Steele pleaded not guilty June 15 to use of interstate commerce for the commission of murder for hire.
Fairfax was not facing a criminal investigation until the pipe bomb was discovered. Within hours, he and retired lawyer Jim Michaud, who testified on Monday, were meeting with investigators in Coeur d’Alene, where Fairfax reportedly admitted he’d planted the bomb but said he’d rigged it not to explode and intended to take Edgar Steele’s money and not commit the murder.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan said the device “had all the components that are needed for a bomb to go off.”
“He took a gamble,” Whelan said. “He created a tremendous risk not only to Mrs. Steele but to the entire community.”
Miller said his client thought the bomb was off the car after he traveled to Oregon to check the car and that he’d only planted it as a ruse to convince Edgar Steele he was complying with the plan.
“I don’t think we need to punish him for not telling the whole story when the device didn’t explode,” Miller said.
Edgar Steele had a second bomb he was going to detonate under his car after his wife’s death to try to make it look like both had been targeted, according to court testimony.
Sotka and Todd Smith, a federal agent with Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, told the judge the plot likely would not have been uncovered had it not been for Fairfax. But they questioned Fairfax’s assertion that placing tape over the pipe bomb’s fuse would keep it form exploding.
A Spokane County bomb technician called the 12-inch bomb “one of the biggest pipe bombs that he could remember, and they deal with this more frequently than we would like,” Smith said.
Smith said he’s investigated two homicides by pipe bomb “and they were no where near as large as this pipe bomb.”
Fairfax’s wife, Carla, testified that she knew nothing of the plan until her husband was arrested June 15. She and her son, Andrew Fairfax, said Larry Fairfax was the family’s main source of income. The family filed for bankruptcy in April, according to news archives.
Michaud called Fairfax “just not a guy who’s going to leave his family” and said he met Fairfax in the mid-1990s when he needed someone to help with excavation work.
“I have the highest regard for his character,” Michaud said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.