By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former Idaho attorney Edgar Steele, who once represented the Aryan Nations white supremacist group and expressed his own anti-Semitic and racist views, has died in California while serving a 50-year prison sentence for soliciting murder, a prison official said on Friday.
Steele, 69, was taken to a hospital near the federal prison where he was incarcerated in Victorville, California, and died on Thursday, said James Engleman, a spokesman for the high-security facility. A letter to the judge in Steele's case said a preliminary finding for the cause of death was pneumonia.
A federal jury in 2011 found Steele, who was from Sagle, Idaho, guilty of commissioning a murder for hire, use of explosive material to commit a felony, possession of a destructive device and tampering with a victim.
The case stemmed from Steele's attempt to have his wife and mother-in-law killed by paying a handyman, Larry Fairfax, $10,000 in silver coins to install a pipe bomb on the wife's car in 2010, the FBI said in November 2011, when Steele was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
Fairfax testified against Steele and in 2011 pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered firearm and manufacturing a firearm. Fairfax was sentenced to 27 months in prison.
Steele's wife, Cyndi, has maintained she does not believe he tried to kill her. "I know he did not do it," she said in a telephone interview on Friday.
She said prison officials did not allow her to visit Steele during the past three years.
Steele's conviction came 11 years after a $6.3 million civil judgment against the Aryan Nations and its founder, Richard Butler, in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of two people who were shot at in their car and forced off a road by Aryan Nations security guards near the group's Idaho compound.
Steele represented the Aryan Nations in the case, which forced the group into bankruptcy.
He went on to publicly express his own anti-Semitic and racist opinions, denying the Holocaust and at one point advocating a boycott of television shows and movies with black actors, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Will Dunham)