Fairfax doesn't plead guilty to firearms charges

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COEUR d’ALENE — Sagle resident Larry Fairfax on Tuesday didn’t plead guilty to firearms charges in U.S. District Court here, though that’s exactly what he was scheduled to do after he signed a plea agreement last month.

Fairfax, 49, was to plead guilty to one count of possession of an unregistered firearm, and one count of making a firearm in violation of the National Firearms Act. Fairfax was allegedly hired by prominent North Idaho attorney Edgar J. Steele to kill Steele’s wife Cyndi Steele. Steele, 65, has been charged with murder-for-hire and has pleaded not guilty.

The firearm in Fairfax’s case was a large metal pipe bomb, which was found under Cyndi Steele’s vehicle during an oil change in June. Court documents and testimony in the case allege that Fairfax placed the pipe bomb under her vehicle as part of the murder for hire plot.

Fairfax, who appeared before U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, didn’t acknowledge the pipe bomb placed beneath the vehicle could have gone off. And that’s why the plea deal wasn’t completed Tuesday.

Fairfax told the court the pipe bomb wouldn’t have exploded without an ignition source.

Fairfax, wearing yellow prison garb from Bonner County jail and sporting a new beard, said the fuse was broken at multiple points and tape would have stopped a burning fuse from reaching the explosive powder inside the metal pipe.

Fairfax, though, did admit to manufacturing the bomb and attaching it to her vehicle.

That wasn’t good enough for Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci J. Whelan, who expected him as part of the agreement to admit in open court that the bomb could have exploded while it was in place. Fairfax didn’t do that.

Cyndi Steele, 54, signed a “victim’s objection to proceeding with the plea agreement,” which was filed in court Tuesday and sealed.

A copy of the affidavit from Cyndi Steele was given to the Coeur d’Alene Press and Bonner County Daily Bee. The authenticity was confirmed by her attorney, Wesley W. Hoyt, in Grangeville, Idaho.

Cyndi Steele also confirmed the authenticity Tuesday night. A similar affidavit was filed by her mother, Jacquanette Kunzman, of Oregon City, Ore. Federal prosecutors say Edgar Steele also wanted her killed.

“I don’t understand why he (Fairfax) is getting a plea agreement,” she said in an interview. “He is getting off softly.”

She said Fairfax should have been charged with something more serious.

The copy of the 16-page affidavit provided to the newspapers said: “In preparing and filing this objection, I make no statements regarding the pending charges against my loving husband, Edgar Steele, and the allegations against him, because my interest here is focused on the safety of my family from the threat posed by Larry Fairfax and his accomplices who are, to my knowledge, still at large at the time of making this affidavit.”

In the document, she said a plea agreement would make finding those accomplices more difficult. She said she was told by the FBI that multiple people were coming after her.

Also, she said she stands by her husband and believes he’s innocent.

Whelan said Cyndi Steele will not talk with the government.

“She doesn’t wish to be bothered by us,” Whelan told the court Tuesday.

In the interview, Cyndi Steele said that’s not true.

Tuesday’s change of plea hearing for Fairfax was continued to Thursday morning.

In testimony during a detention hearing for Fairfax in June, it was revealed that Fairfax was the alleged hitman, and that he had cooperated as an informant who told authorities about Edgar Steele’s alleged murder-for-hire plot. Testimony revealed that Fairfax wore a hidden recording device in meetings with Steele.

The 14-page plea agreement document says that if the case against Fairfax proceeded to trial, prosecutors and Fairfax agree he would be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Fairfax and his defense attorney, John Miller, signed the plea agreement.

Steele will be tried in November. Steele was arrested June 11, and was indicted by a grand jury on June 15.

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