Florida Man Charged in Connection with 14 Bombs Sent to Trump Critics

69
SHARE
Cesar Altieri Sayoc is pictured in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, U.S. in this handout booking photo
Cesar Altieri Sayoc is pictured in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in this August 2015 handout booking photo obtained by Reuters October 26, 2018. Broward County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS
Advertisement

By Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall
PLANTATION, Fla. (Reuters) 

The man suspected of mailing at least 14 pipe bombs to some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s leading critics was arrested on Friday in Florida on federal charges in a case echoing the rancour of one of the most toxic election campaigns in decades

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a part-time pizza deliveryman, grocery worker and former stripper once charged with threatening to bomb an electric company in a billing dispute, was taken into custody by federal agents outside an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, near Miami as helicopters flew overhead.

 

Cesar Sayoc's van is seen in Boca Raton, Florida
Cesar Sayoc’s van is seen in Boca Raton, Florida, U.S., October 18, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. ED KENNEDY/via REUTERS

 

Authorities also seized a white van that Sayoc appeared to have used as his dwelling, its windows plastered with pro-Trump stickers, the slogan “CNN SUCKS” and images of Democratic leaders with red cross-hairs over their faces.

Fingerprint and DNA evidence helped identify the suspect, but his arrest did not necessarily end the threat, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray warned at a news conference.

 

Postal workers stand on the street during a report of a suspicious package in the Manhattan borough of New York
Postal workers stand on the street during a report of a suspicious package in Manhattan, New York, October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

 

“There may be other packages in transit now and other packages on the way,” Wray said.

One federal law enforcement source told Reuters that authorities were investigating whether other individuals were involved and did not rule out further arrests.

 

 

Sayoc’s arrest followed an intense four-day manhunt sparked by the discovery of bombs concealed in packages addressed to such leading Democratic figures as former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in the 2016 presidential race.

Some of the parcels also contained photographs of the intended recipients marked with a red X, according to a criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court.

 

A van with windows covered in pro-Trump and anti-Democrat stickers is shown in this photo taken in Hollywood, Florida
A van with windows covered in pro-Trump and anti-Democrat stickers, which was seized on October 26, 2018 during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, is seen in Hollywood, Florida, April 6, 2018. REUTERS/Geo Rodriguez

 

The complaint accused Sayoc of sending 13 bombs to 11 individuals, starting with billionaire Democratic donor George Soros. A package surfaced on Monday near his home in Katonah, New York.

A 14th package was found on Friday at a post office outside San Francisco addressed to another wealthy contributor to the Democratic Party and liberal causes, Tom Steyer.

 

Law enforcement officers stand near a van which was seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, in Plantation
Law enforcement officers stand near a van which was seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, in Plantation, Florida October 26, 2018 in a still image fro video. WPLG/Handout via REUTERS

 

The bombs were sent in manila envelopes lined with bubble wrap and consisted of plastic 6-inch pipes packed with explosive material and wired to small clocks and batteries, the complaint said.

Wray said investigators had yet to determine whether the bombs were actually “functional,” but added that the devices could be dangerous “if subjected to the right combination of heat or shock or friction.”

 

A combination photo of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and U.S. Senator Cory Booker speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington
A combination photo of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (L) speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 10, 2017 and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts, Jim Bourg

 

All were sent through the U.S. Postal Service system and intercepted before reaching their intended targets without exploding. No one has been hurt.

But the bombs have heightened tensions during the closing days of a highly contentious campaign ahead of the Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats are battling to seize control of Congress now held by Trump’s Republican Party.

 

Police respond to a report of a suspicious package in the Manhattan borough of New York
Police respond to a report of a suspicious package in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

 

Wray said fingerprints on one of two packages sent to U.S. Representative Maxine Waters, a Los Angeles Democrat frequently disparaged by Trump as “low-IQ Maxine,” belonged to Sayoc. The complaint also cited a “possible DNA” link between samples taken from two of the bombs and a sample previously collected from Sayoc.

 

‘POLITICAL VIOLENCE’

Sayoc was charged with five felony counts, including interstate transportation and illegal mailing of explosives, threatening a former president, making threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officers.

 

A law enforcement officer checks a van which was seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, in Plantation
A law enforcement officer checks a van which was seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, in Plantation, Florida October 26, 2018 in a still image fro video. WPLG/Handout via REUTERS

 

If convicted, Sayoc could be sentenced up to 48 years in prison, officials said.

“We will not tolerate such lawlessness, especially political violence,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a press conference.

 

Law enforcement officers stand near a van which was seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, in Plantation
Law enforcement officers stand near a van which was seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, in Plantation, Florida October 26, 2018 in a still image fro video. WPLG/Handout via REUTERS

 

Announcing the arrest to a cheering audience at the White House, Trump said, “We must never allow political violence to take root in America – cannot let it happen,” Trump said. “And I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and to stop it now.”

A native of New York City’s Brooklyn borough and a registered Republican, Sayoc made his political views evident on social media. In Facebook and Twitter posts, he railed against Democrats, Muslims and liberals, including an anti-Soros tweet two days before a bomb showed up at the financier’s home.

 

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers stand outside a U.S. Postal Service facility after a suspicious package was discovered there in New York
New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers stand outside a U.S. Postal Service facility after a suspicious package was discovered there in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

 

The Arizona Republic newspaper reported that Sayoc threatened Republican U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, one of the few Republicans in Congress openly critical of Trump, in a pair of Oct. 1 Twitter posts consisting of violent imagery and a photo of Flake’s Arizona home, with the message, “… very nice house Jeff a lot entrances.”

Public records showed numerous arrests over the years for domestic violence, theft and other charges, including the alleged bomb threat against a utility company.

 

Officials respond to a report of a suspicious package in the Manhattan borough of New York
Officials respond to a report of a suspicious package in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

 

Sayoc was expected to be held at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami and make his first appearance before a judge on Monday, according to former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weinstein.

A public defender listed as Sayoc’s attorney of record in New York, Sarah Baumgartel, could not immediately be reached for comment.

 

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers walk after a suspicious package was discovered in the Manhattan borough of New York
New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers walk towards a U.S. Postal Service facility after a suspicious package was discovered there in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar

 

Ron Lowy, a former lawyer for Sayoc who now represents his family, told CNN he believed Sayoc was left emotionally scarred as a boy when his father left the home, developing an identity crisis in which he ultimately embraced Trump as a kind of father figure.

“It’s my opinion that he was attracted to the Trump formula of reaching out, Trump reaching out to these types of outsiders – people who don’t fit in, people who are angry at America, telling them that they have a place at the table, telling them that it’s OK to get angry,” Lowy said.

 

‘STOP THE RANCOUR’

All the individuals targeted by the packages Sayoc is accused of sending have been outspoken critics of Trump and his administration, foils for the president and his right-wing supporters or both.

 

Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counterterrorism John Miller (C) of the New York Police Department speaks during a news conference regarding a suspicious package found at a postal facility in Manhattan, New York
Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counterterrorism John Miller (C) of the New York Police Department speaks during a news conference regarding a suspicious package found at a postal facility in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

 

Among intended recipients earlier in the week were former Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, actor Robert De Niro and former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance Trump revoked after Brennan lambasted Trump’s Russia summit performance as “nothing short of treasonous.” His package was delivered to the Manhattan bureau of CNN, where he had served as an on-air analyst.

On Friday, packages surfaced for Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Democratic U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California.

 

Law enforcement personnel operate a bomb disposal robot outside a post office which had been evacuated in Wilmington
Law enforcement personnel operate a bomb disposal robot outside a post office which had been evacuated in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

 

The episode has sparked an outcry from Trump’s critics charging that his inflammatory rhetoric against perceived enemies among Democrats and the press has fostered a climate ripe for politically motivated violence.

“If we don’t stop this political mania, this fervour, rancour, hatred, you’ll see this again and again and again,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told MSNBC. “…It starts with the president.”

 

Crowds begin to evacuate from the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York
Crowds begin to evacuate from the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Christine Chan

 

Trump’s supporters have accused Democrats of unfairly suggesting that the president was to blame for the bomb scares, and Trump himself accused the press of using coverage of the investigation to score political points against him.

After first calling for unity at the White House event, Trump lamented partisan attacks against him and again pointed at the media.

 

First responders arrive on scene after crowds were evacuated out of the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York
First responders arrive on scene after crowds were evacuated out of the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Christine Chan

 

“I get attacked all the time … I can do the greatest thing for our country, and on the networks and on different things it will show bad,” he told the crowd, acknowledging an attendee who shouted “fake news.”

 

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson and Bernie Woodall; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus, Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York, Mark Hosenball, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey, Sarah N. Lynch and Lisa Lambert in Washington, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)