Posted by: Daniel Cisek, Deputy Press Attaché
The FBI recently concluded a successful investigation and prosecution of U.S. citizen Edgar J. Steele for charges stemming from his attempts to hire a hitman to kill his wife in 2008. The FBI’s investigation determined Steele hired Larry Fairfax, a handyman, to place a bomb in Cyndi Steele’s vehicle. When the bomb failed to detonate, Steele discussed with Fairfax his desire for his wife to die in a car accident. Fairfax eventually brought the plot to the attention of local authorities and the FBI. Department of Justice prosecutors believed Steele’s motive for the plot involved his desire to have a new wife without losing portions of his assets in a divorce settlement. The FBI investigation determined Steele was looking for his new wife in Ukraine. Because of the case’s connection to Ukraine, U.S.-based investigators sought assistance from the FBI’s Legal Attaché’s office in Kyiv and the Legal Attaché’s contacts with Ukrainian law enforcement authorities.
As part of the evidence collected in the case, U.S.-based FBI agents recovered information that Steele was using on-line dating websites to find a new wife. When Steele’s dating interests appeared to include several women in Ukraine, the FBI’s Legal Attaché office in Kyiv worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) to identify and interview one of the women in contact with Steele. Working with little information, the Legal Attaché’s MVD contacts were able to locate and interview the woman who provided information corroborating the prosecution’s theory that Steele was actively seeking a new wife.
Following Steele’s indictment on charges related to the murder-for-hire plot, prosecutors determined a need to incorporate the Ukrainian citizen’s testimony in Steele’s trial. In March 2011, the Legal Attaché’s office, along with the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, obtained unprecedented assistance from the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO) to conduct a court authorized, video- link deposition with the court in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The GPO worked closely with the Legal Attaché’s office to obtain the witness’s cooperation, the witness’s transportation to the deposition site at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, and to provide Ukrainian legal support to the proceedings and to the witness in order to protect her rights under Ukrainian law. The GPO also supported the FBI’s efforts by negotiating with the witness for the release of letters she received from Steele to the FBI as evidence. The staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv also successfully negotiated technological challenges to successfully support the effort to facilitate the deposition.
In April 2011, Edgar Steele was tried in Federal Court in Boise, Idaho for the plot to kill his wife. Ukraine-based Assistant Legal Attaché Brent A. Smith traveled to the trial to provide testimony surrounding the evidence collected with the assistance of the MVD and the GPO. According to the Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting the case, the evidence and testimony collected through the assistance of the Ukrainian government was pivotal in establishing and corroborating Steele’s motive for attempting to have his wife killed. Steele’s trial concluded with convictions on all four counts related to the murder-for-hire plot. Additionally, the cooperation in this case broke new ground for U.S. prosecutions with links to Ukraine through the successful completion of the first video-linked deposition that was deemed admissible by U.S. courts.