Public Safety

Former University of Iowa medical student to prison for trying to hire hit man

Cedar Rapids man wanted to kill University of Iowa dean after being told to leave school

CEDAR RAPIDS — The University of Iowa associate dean who told Steven Arce he could no longer attend the UI medical school said Wednesday he was just the messenger — even though Arce subsequently tried to hire a hit man to kill him.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, an associate dean of the Carver College of Medicine and urologist at UI Hospitals and Clinics, said at Arce’s sentencing in U.S. District Court that he wasn’t involved in making the decision to dismiss Arce, who was failing classes and having “struggles” in 2018.

Cooper had only met Arce when Arce was a first-year medical student but was the UI official who called Arce to deliver the medical school committee’s decision.

He had no clue Arce was planning to harm him. He felt “fear and disbelief” for himself and his family after learning of Arce’s plans in December 2018.

Cooper said he couldn’t imagine “what I would have done to make someone feel that way.”

Arce, 36, of Cedar Rapids, previously pleaded guilty in federal court to selling firearms to a felon, but it was his underlying conduct — making inquiries about killing Cooper and another man — that increased his prison time from a possible three years to more than seven years.

In increasing Arce’s prison time above sentencing guidelines, U.S. District Judge C.J. Williams said the guidelines didn’t account for Arce’s conduct.

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Arce had offered to sell a confidential informant an AR-15 — a “high powered rifle” — and a 9 mm handgun on Dec. 21, 2018, and Jan. 2, in Waterloo. Arce thought the informant was a felon, so he knew it was illegal for him to have firearms, the judge pointed out.

At one point, Arce then wanted to delay the killing for a few weeks until his appeal to regain admission to the medical school was completed. But he still wanted someone to assault Cooper, Williams said.

Arce, who was carrying a loaded handgun during his meetings with the informant, then decided to go through with the hit and wanted the informant to accept two machine guns as payment, Williams added.

Arce also asked the informant about killing another man, his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, which also is conduct not considered in the guidelines, Williams noted.

Williams concluded Arce was an “extreme danger to the public” and that he was going above the advisory sentencing to 90 months, or seven-and-a-half years.

Arce, during sentencing, said he was “ashamed” of himself and the pain he had caused his fiancee and family. He admitted to having mental and addiction issues but has overcome addiction before and knows he can again.

Arce also said he plans to pursue another graduate degree and help others once he is released from prison. He also plans to remain “clean and sober.”

During the investigation, a confidential informant said Arce on Dec. 21, 2018, had several firearms at a house on Ninth Street in Waterloo. He offered to sell the informant an AR-15 and a 9 mm handgun, according to the plea agreement.

Investigators arranged for the informant to buy the rifle, according to the plea.

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During the meet, the informant and Arce talked about defacing serial numbers, and Arce asked about hiring the informant to kill Cooper, court documents show. Then, on Jan. 2, Arce asked for the delay because of the appeal and asked about “beating” Cooper to coerce him into letting Arce back in school, court documents show.

On Jan. 3, the hit man — actually an undercover special agent with the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement — met with Arce, who brought up killing his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.

Authorities searched Arce’s residence Jan. 14 and recovered two guns in working order — a handgun on the nightstand and a rifle under the bed, according to the plea agreement.

Officers also found a box of gun parts, which a criminalist said could be assembled into a machine gun but had one missing part, the plea shows.

During the federal investigation, a detective from the UI police, said the medical school had a call in early December about Arce being suicidal, according to court documents. Officers contacted Arce and allowed him to leave after officers determined he was not a threat to himself.

Two months earlier, on Oct. 3, Arce had been arrested in Black Hawk County on charges of operating while intoxicated and carrying weapons. Those charges are still pending.

Williams, during sentencing, said the 90 months would run consecutively to any sentence in the Black Hawk County case.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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