No bail for bomb suspect
| June 22, 2010 9:00 PM
COEUR d'ALENE - Sagle resident Larry Fairfax, who allegedly planted a large pipe bomb under a woman's vehicle as part of a murder-for-hire plot and then turned into a federal informant, will remain in custody.
Fairfax, 49, appeared in U.S. District Court on Monday during a detention hearing before Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale.
His attorney, family members and friends argued he is reliable, not dangerous, and must continue working to provide for his family.
Authorities, however, argued he hasn't been completely forthcoming in his dealings with law enforcement and has subjected people to danger and can't be trusted to be released as court proceedings continue against him.
A federal criminal complaint charges Fairfax with possession of an unregistered firearm and making a firearm in violation of federal law.
Under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Traci J. Whelan during the hearing, FBI special agent Michael Sotka said Fairfax let authorities in on Sandpoint-area attorney Edgar J. Steele's alleged plan to have his wife murdered, making it look like a fatal car accident.
What Fairfax neglected to mention to officers while he was cooperating in their investigation - including going to the extent of wearing a hidden recording device on two occasions while he met with Steele to plot - was that Fairfax had already been involved in attaching a powerful pipe bomb to Cyndi Steele's sport utility vehicle, according to testimony Monday.
Whelan said, "The glaring fact is he didn't disclose everything. He created tremendous risk to Mrs. Steele and the community."
The pipe bomb was found when Cyndi Steele stopped for an oil change last week.
"It's almost as if we're waiting for the other shoe to fall," Whelan said.
That omission didn't leave Dale with the confidence to release Fairfax as his case proceeds.
"That causes the court the gravest concern," Dale said as she announced her decision. And the crime alleged is one of violence, she said.
Fairfax's attorney, John Miller, said Fairfax made the bomb in a way that it wouldn't detonate and that his client planned to take the money for the killing but not go through with it. He said his client feared Steele.
Miller also told the court, "You'd have no clue about this plot if he'd not come to you. The fact of the matter is this individual stopped murder."
Miller admitted his client didn't tell the whole story to authorities after approaching them on June 9. But, Miller said, his client thought the pipe bomb had fallen off the SUV during the two weeks or so from the time it was placed on Cyndi Steele's vehicle to the time the oil change employees spotted it.
"He thought the device was gone," Miller said. Fairfax believed the threat was gone, he said.
Fairfax doesn't have a violent history and had made no threats against others, Miller argued. Fairfax accepted $10,000 in silver coins to carry out the killing, according to testimony.
Whelan said Fairfax could have loaded the foot-long steel pipe with sand or something else that wasn't dangerous if he never intended it to detonate. Instead it was filled with what authorities believe was an explosive powder.
C. Todd Smith, a federal agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, also testified, saying "this was a very large pipe bomb."
He said it was "definitely one of the largest" he had seen. Whelan provided photographs to the court of the pipe bomb, some of which were taken by employees at the oil change station.
Smith said it had all the elements necessary to be lethal. Smith also discussed a second pipe bomb Fairfax made that was to be used on Edgar Steele's vehicle to provide him with an alibi when the other pipe bomb detonated on Cyndi Steele's SUV, making them both appear to be targets.
Fairfax's wife, Carla Fairfax, testified as a defense witness called by Miller. She said the loss of her husband's income would hurt the family. She said her husband works as a logger, recycles vehicles, and does excavation and road work.
Carla Fairfax said if her husband was released while the case proceeds she would make sure he showed up to hearings and was available for interviews.
Dale wasn't convinced, pointing out that Carla Fairfax had no idea her husband had accepted the coins, suggesting there might be other plans or activities unknown to her.
Their son, Andrew Fairfax, 26, also testified on behalf of his father, as did retired Judge James R. Michaud, who is also a neighbor.
Andrew Fairfax said he would make sure the family got all the guns out of their house if his father was released. He said he would also ensure his father cooperated if released.
Michaud said, "He's about the hardest working guy I know. He was always on time with his crew, and honest with billing."
Miller said several people wrote letters in support of Fairfax's release.
Steele's detention hearing is today in U.S. District Court.