Before an Iowa medical student was busted on federal weapons charges, he allegedly slipped an undercover “hitman” a sticky note with his professor’s name.
Steven Anthony Arce, 35, was arrested in January on two counts of selling a firearm to a felon. But prosecutors say Arce also wanted the buyer, a confidential informant, to murder a faculty member at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine.
Arce’s trial for the alleged gun sales is scheduled for April. He left the Iowa City college in December 2018 under circumstances that remain unclear.
An affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint portrays Arce as an aspiring medical student who apparently straddled two worlds: one of higher education, the other of prescription drugs and homemade weapons.
During one January meeting, Arce told the informant he wanted to delay the murder-for-hire because of an “appeal hearing” he filed with the college, court papers allege. Arce allegedly suggested they give the professor a “nice fucking beating” instead, to force the educator into allowing Arce to return to medical school.
Arce’s alleged target was Christopher S. Cooper, a pediatric urologist and associate dean, who told the Gazette in Cedar Rapids that he was “incredibly grateful” to campus police and local and federal law enforcement.
When reached by The Daily Beast, Cooper shared the same statement he gave to the Gazette.
“I don’t believe it is permissible for me to provide you any information regarding Steven Arce,” Cooper wrote. “About all I think I can say is that I am incredibly grateful to the law enforcement officials that work in the FBI, ATF, University Police, University Threat Assessment Team, and the Iowa City Police.”
Arce’s attorneys did not return messages. The former student is behind bars in Linn County and has not requested a detention hearing, said a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Northern District of Iowa. Arce’s next court appearance is in March.
On Facebook, Arce displayed pictures of his red 2017 Chevy Camaro, and shared photos of The Godfather movies and Martin Luther King, Jr. Last summer, Arce posted an image with the words: “No matter how educated, talented, rich or cool you believe you are, how you treat people ultimately tells all. Integrity is everything.”
The med student was on law enforcement’s radar as early as November, when a confidential informant told police about a man known as “Cuban,” who was staying in Waterloo with a girlfriend and looking to peddle firearms, the affidavit states.
Court papers described the informant as a “methamphetamine user” who was “cooperating in an effort to reduce his/her pending criminal charges.”
On the afternoon of Dec. 21, the informant visited a Waterloo residence where “Cuban,” later identified as Arce, allegedly offered to sell two rifles: an AR-15 and a 30-06.
During the meeting, Arce was carrying a “cocked and loaded” .45-caliber pistol in a shoulder holster and was driving a red Camaro, prosecutors say. “Cuban” allegedly wanted to enlist the informant to kill someone, but the nark didn’t have all the details.
Authorities arranged for the informant to purchase an AR-15 from Arce for $1,000. In a recorded conversation, the informant warned Arce that they were a felon and not allowed to possess or purchase firearms, the affidavit states.
The two then discussed defacing serial numbers on the weapons and Arce hiring the informant to kill a University of Iowa medical professor, court papers allege. The informant told Arce that he would need a more qualified hitman, and Arce allegedly agreed.
When the snitch asked who Arce wanted dead, prosecutors say, Arce wrote Cooper’s name on a yellow sticky pad along with the words “C.C. Carver College of Medicine MD Urology.”
After the buy, the informant told police that Arce had offered to sell multiple firearms, including fully automatic machine guns and silencers.
On Jan. 2, the informer allegedly met Arce in an Applebee’s parking lot to purchase a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol for $550. The confidential source was instructed to tell Arce he could meet a “hitman” the next day to discuss the rubout, prosecutors say.
A woman believed to be Arce’s girlfriend drove him to the Applebee’s, which was Arce’s chosen meeting spot, in a Toyota Camry, court documents state. Arce entered the informant’s vehicle, and the informant began recording their conversation.
The informant asked Arce if he wanted to meet the hitman alone, and Arce replied that he wanted the informant to be present during the meeting. The source then told Arce he needed to be “100% sure” that he wanted Cooper dead, court papers allege. Arce then allegedly suggested they postpone the murder until after a university hearing.
Arce also allegedly told the informant that he could finish putting together two fully automatic weapons by the end of the week, and that he was building an Uzi. The onetime student said he’d sell the weapons for $2,500 apiece, according to the affidavit.
The informant asked Arce about “fake heroin,” the document adds, and Arce allegedly remarked that he just took some and that it’s called “Kratom.” Arce also allegedly offered to procure Cialis, a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction, and sell it for $3 a pill. (According to prosecutors, text messages revealed Arce offered to trade Kratom for some Vicodin or Percocet. Arce allegedly texted the informant: “Got some xana [sic] and valium too.”)
After the gun buy, investigators began surveillance and trailed Arce to a Hobby Lobby. Authorities say a man identified as S.C.—whom Arce allegedly later identified as his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend and his next target for an execution—picked Arce up in the Toyota Camry and that they drove to a Hobby Lobby and went inside the store.
On Jan. 3, the informant and the “hitman,” an undercover agent with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, met Arce at the Waterloo residence.
Arce was waiting for them outside, and during a recorded conversation, he allegedly told them he wanted S.C. to be killed instead of Cooper. Arce told them he “may eventually want C.C. killed but that would be at a later time,” the affidavit states.
Prosecutors say Arce then took the “hitman” inside to show off what he claimed were pieces of fully automatic rifles he was putting together. Arce also boasted of creating homemade gun suppressors, court papers allege.
Arce and the phony contract killer agreed on weapons as payment for murdering S.C. One automatic rifle would be delivered up front, and the other rifle would come after the deed was done, authorities say.
“Arce said he did not care how [the informant] killed S.C., but stated that [the informant] could torture S.C. if he wanted,” the affidavit alleges.
Meanwhile, police records revealed someone dialed 911 from the Waterloo residence to report an overdose on Oct. 3, 2018. The caller was identified as Steve Arce, who said a woman overdosed on Ativan and another prescription drug.
That same day, Arce was arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated in Evansdale, according to court papers. During the alleged incident, an off-duty officer observed a red Camaro speeding at 80 mph and weaving, the affidavit says.
Arce had another brush with authorities in December 2018. At the time, University of Iowa cops responded to a report that Arce was suicidal. Arce was permitted to leave after he was “determined not to be a threat to himself,” the document states.
According to a Gazette report, university police received a call on Dec. 14 about a man who had a gun on campus and was threatening to commit suicide.
Arce was in the Medical Education Research Facility during the episode and allegedly told a witness he would kill himself “if I flunk this test.” The newspaper reported that records of the incident didn’t indicate if police found a gun in Arce’s possession.