The key witness who assisted the Justice Department in last week’s successful prosecution of former Aryan Nations attorney Edgar Steele will spend 27 months in prison for building pipe bombs in a murder-for-hire plot.
Larry Fairfax, a 49-year-old handyman, contacted the FBI last year after he was approached by Edgar Steele and given $10,000 in silver coins to build pipe bombs to kill Steele’s wife, Cyndi, and her mother.
What Fairfax didn’t immediately tell the FBI was that he already had placed one of armed explosive devices on Cyndi Steele’s vehicle and it was there when she drove from North Idaho to Oregon.
The pipe bomb was discovered during an oil change on the vehicle shortly before Edgar Steele was arrested by the FBI and arraigned on federal charges related to the plot. A second pipe bomb – planted for a cover story – was successfully removed from a vehicle driven by Edgar Steele.
Fairfax pleaded guilty last October to federal charges of building and possessing an illegal explosive device. As part of a plea bargain, he agreed to testify as a prosecution witness against Steele in a jury trial moved to Boise.
“My acts were very reckless and just wrong,” Fairfax told U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill at Wednesday’s sentencing in Coeur d’Alene.
“I know what I did was wrong and careless,” Fairfax said, adding that he “learned not to make a fast buck by compromising the law.”
The sentencing occurred six days after a U.S. District Court jury convicted Steele of four federal felonies based largely on Fairfax’s testimony and secret tape recordings he made during murder plot discussions with Steele. Steele is a lawyer and an anti-Semitic author and lecturer who unsuccessfully defended Richard Butler and his neo-Nazi Aryan Nations in a 2000 civil suit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center. That suit and ensuing jury verdict, based on an attack by Aryan guards on a woman and her son, resulted in a $6.3 million judgment that led the bankruptcy and dismantling of the Aryan Nations compound in North Idaho.
At Fairfax’s sentencing on Wednesday, Cyndi Steele was allowed to address the court as the “victim” in the case – a label she refuses to use or believe. Since shortly after her husband’s arrest, she has defended the man accused of trying to have her and her mother murdered, saying the government was framing her husband merely because of his extremist views.
“Larry the pipe bomber” should go to prison for life, Steele said, though suggesting that was unlikely because the FBI and federal prosecutors are “promoting and protecting” the informant and crafted a “soft plea deal” for him.
“You wanted me dead and just didn’t care who else got injured, too,” she said, pointing at Fairfax and calling him a “coward, a liar, a thief and a would-be murderer” who conspired with federal authorities to “frame and convict my husband and ruin our family.”
Cyndi Steele said Fairfax is “not a hero,” as he reportedly claims in a book manuscript. “You are the vilest form of a villain … and you have influential people protecting you because it fits with their scheme, too.”
After reading her prepared remarks, she pulled off her sweater, revealing her white “Free Edgar Steele” T-shirt as she stormed out of the federal courtroom, banging the door behind her. Her attorney, Wesley Hoyt, who attended the Boise trial, remained seated in the courtroom, looking somewhat bewildered.
Fairfax’s attorney, John Miller, urged the court to impose an 11-month sentence – the amount of time Fairfax already has served.
“This man’s action has probably saved up to 12 lives,’’ Miller told the court, claiming Fairfax built bombs that he believed wouldn’t explode while he secretly notified authorities of the murder plot.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan argued for a 30-month sentence, saying “it’s not a soft-plea deal” as Cyndi Steele suggested.
For his part, the federal judge said he wasn’t sure if Fairfax should be viewed as a hero or an anti-hero.
“What Mr. Fairfax’s motivation was has never been clear,” the judge said. Winmill said one possibility was that Fairfax was involved in a grand theft by deception case and was positioning himself to blackmail Steele after the initial payment.
The judge could have imposed an even tougher enhanced sentence if he ruled that pipe bombs were made in furtherance of another crime, but said he backed away from that and gave Fairfax credit for “extra acceptance of responsibility.”
“He was endeavoring to intercede in a plot by Edgar Steele to kill his wife,” the judge said of Fairfax’s actions.
In addition to a total of 27 months in prison, Fairfax will be on supervised release for three years when he is released. He also will have to pay a $9,690 fine and restitution totaling $2,836.