COEUR d'ALENE - Sagle resident Larry Fairfax on Thursday pleaded guilty to two firearms charges for making and possessing a pipe bomb that never detonated, but that authorities say played a part in a murder-for-hire plot.
Federal prosecutors have said Fairfax, 49, was allegedly hired by attorney Edgar J. Steele to kill Steele's wife and mother-in-law.
Fairfax appeared before Chief U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill, agreeing he would be found guilty of possession of an unregistered firearm and making a firearm in violation of the National Firearms Act if his case proceeded to trial.
Now, Fairfax is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 16, when he faces up to 10 years in prison on each count.
Fairfax has agreed to repay the $10,000 Steele allegedly paid Fairfax to murder Cyndi Steele and her mother, according to testimony. Fairfax already spent that money.
Edgar Steele, 65, has been charged with murder-for-hire and other related charges, but has pleaded not guilty to all of them.
Fairfax made a massive pipe bomb using a metal pipe, explosive powder and fuse and attached it to the bottom of Cyndi Steele's sport utility vehicle, where it was accidentally discovered during an oil change in Coeur d'Alene on June 15. A bomb-squad unit from Spokane was called out and the discovery of the device caused U.S. 95 to be shut down as a safety precaution.
Fairfax also made a pipe bomb that he attached to Edgar Steele's vehicle, that would be detonated after the one under Cyndi's vehicle, intending to demonstrate Edgar also was a target, court documents show.
"The parties agree the devices had the potential to explode," according to the plea agreement document, signed and filed by all the parties on Thursday.
Prosecutors have said they have recordings of Steele and Fairfax discussing the hit on Cyndi Steele. The recordings were made when Fairfax apparently wore a hidden recording device and met secretly with Steele while Fairfax was cooperating as an FBI informant. Fairfax, though, failed to mention to authorities, while working as an informant, that a pipe bomb was already fixed to Cyndi Steele's vehicle.
Steele is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 1, but his defense team is seeking to move that to a later date because they believe it's a complex case and will take them more time to prepare. Winmill didn't rule Thursday on the defense request, but is expected to do so soon.
Cyndi Steele, the alleged victim in the case, completely rejects the allegations against her husband and wants to support him in any way possible. She believes he has nothing to do with the pipe bombs.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci Whelan told the court, "(Cyndi's) being manipulated. People who are trying to help her are setting up a defense for her husband."
Whelan added that Cyndi's "position is not one the government can adopt."
And she said, "These charges just don't come out of thin air," pointing to the grand jury indictment.
Cyndi Steele is being represented as a victim by attorney Wesley W. Hoyt, of Clearwater, Idaho.
Cyndi spoke in court Thursday before the plea deal was approved by the court, saying Fairfax shouldn't be getting a "soft" deal from prosecutors. She believes he should face more serious charges.
She said she still fears for her safety.
"I'll always have to be worried until his accomplices are arrested, charged and prosecuted," she told the court.
One possible accomplice, who hasn't been officially named, is described in court documents as someone who traveled with Fairfax to the Portland area to see if the pipe bomb attached to Cyndi's vehicle was still in place.
She traveled from Sagle to Portland and back with the bomb attached. Fairfax and the other person made the trip after Edgar Steele allegedly demanded an explanation from Fairfax as to why the pipe bomb had not exploded, according to court documents.
They didn't see the device, documents show.
"Based upon this observation, Fairfax believed it had fallen off and he returned to Idaho," according to the plea agreement. "At Edgar Steele's demand, Fairfax removed the destructive device from Steele's vehicle and dismantled it."
Also Thursday, Winmill didn't rule on a request by Cyndi Steele and Hoyt for the court to drop a no-contact order that's preventing her and Edgar Steele from communicating. The order was put in place to, in part, prevent witness tampering.
Cyndi, however, wants regular phone contact to discuss family business matters.
Winmill hinted that contact might be restored, but the two wouldn't be able to discuss the court case and the conversations would be recorded and reviewed by an independent third party, possibly a U.S. magistrate judge.