Edgar J. Steele, a self-described white separatist and “attorney for the politically incorrect,” was sentenced Wednesday to 50 years in federal prison for plotting the pipe bomb murder of his wife.
“This was a very serious offense,” U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill said in sentencing the 66-year-old attorney who once represented the Aryan Nations and its founder Richard Butler.
Congress mandated a minimum of 40 years in prison for the type of crimes Steele was convicted of in May, the judge told a packed courtroom in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
Steele told the court it was a mistake that he didn’t act as his own lawyer or testify in his own defense on the advice of his retained attorney.
The sentence came after Steele spent 75 minutes in an angry, rambling oratory – likely his last courtroom appearance – where he maintained his innocence. He claimed was targeted by corrupt federal agents, the Anti-Defamation League or the Russian Mafia.
“I have been held incommunicado by this government,” Steele told the judge. “I am a political prisoner being persecuted for my views.”
“The Constitution has been thrown out in my case, and you facilitated it judge – you!” Steele said, pointing at Winmill.
“There is no justice today for the politically incorrect,” Steele said in his continuing diatribe. “We are a government of elitist, self-righteous, ruthless men.”
“Why me?’’ Steele asked, suggesting he was “singled out” for prosecution in a conspiracy involving the federal government and the Anti-Defamation League. “We ought to turn the running of the government over to them (the ADL). Oh, I forgot. We already did.”
Last May, a federal jury in Boise convicted Steele on four counts – use of interstate commerce facilities in commission of murder-for hire; aiding and abetting use of explosive material to commit a federal felony; aiding and abetting possession of a destructive device in relation to a crime of violence; and tampering with a victim.
The standard sentencing range for those convictions is 715 to 773 months in prison.
Steele’s attorney, Wesley Hoyt, asked that Steele get credit for the 18 months behind bars he’s already served and be released.
The judge agreed with the prosecution’s recommendation for 600 months in prison. “Any sentence I impose is a life sentence,” Winmill told Steele.
“Give me 1,000 years, heck,” Steele told the judge. “That will put me in the Guinness Book of World Records.”
The case unfolded with Steele’s arrest in 2010, just before a potentially lethal pipe bomb was found on the car driven by his wife, Cyndi, when she took the vehicle in for an oil change. The bomb was disarmed, and no one was injured. The man who placed the bomb, Larry Fairfax, went to the FBI, and secretly recorded conversations between him and Steele became the backbone of the government’s case.
Cyndi Steele was allowed to address the court at the sentencing hearing, but she said she’s not a victim. “I am not a victim of my husband,” she told the court. “I am a victim of the government.”
She listened to the FBI recordings and still believed the whole thing was fabricated by FBI agents intent on arresting her outspoken attorney-husband.
“Free my husband so he can come home and our family can be whole,” Cyndi Steele told the judge, warning him that he was about to “sentence an innocent man to what is a death sentence.”
After the 3-hour hearing, she walked out of the courtroom yelling, “It’s wrong. It’s wrong,” as federal marshals led her husband away in handcuffs.
Steele, dressed in a gray sweat shirt and orange jail pants, stared blankly at his wife as she spoke for almost an hour before the judge asked her to wrap up her remarks.
Steele, who did not take the stand in his own defense during the trial, followed, telling the judge that the FBI tape recordings in the murder-for-hire plot were fabricated. As Steele rambled on, the judge reminded the defendant that his allocution was to discuss mitigation issues, not to retry factual issues previously addressed.
After Steele had spoken for an hour, criticizing the Department of Justice and the court, the judge told the defendant he had 15 more minutes.
“This is probably one of the best speeches I ever wrote, you know?” Steele later responded.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan told the court that Steele was indicted and tried for the crimes he committed, not for his political beliefs. She said the murder plot was “cold and calculating” and that after his arrest Steele continued to intimidate and manipulate his wife.
“He has lashed out rather than accept responsibility,” Whelan said, referring to Steele’s attacks on the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the court.
In a statement released after the sentencing, Wendy J. Olson, the U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said Steele had engaged in “depraved and violent conduct.”
“Through his conduct, including his attempts to influence a witness, Mr. Steele earned every month in prison to which the District Court sentenced him,” Olson said. “Our sympathy remains with Mrs. Steele and her children.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney D. Marc Haws, who prosecuted the case with Whelan, said the defendant’s harsh criticism of federal prosecutors, FBI agents and the court was “somewhat remarkable.”
“The American criminal justice system has properly and justly responded to Mr. Steele’s criminal acts,” Haws said. “Mr. Steele is responsible for everything that has befallen him. The court, federal agents, the jury have all properly fulfilled their roles, making sure justice was done.”
“That’s what happened here,” Whelan added. “Mr. Steele received every procedural benefit and protection, and we’re proud of the job that we do.”
On Tuesday, the judge denied Steele’s motion for a new trial for what he claimed was a lack of federal jurisdiction, an “erroneous” jury instruction, prosecutorial misconduct, FBI misconduct and “judicial bias.”
In an interview last week with Spokane’s KXLY-TV, Steele denied being a white supremacist or a racist. “But I will confess to being a white nationalist,” he said. “I admit that I’m a white separatist.”