Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page -

At strip club, dancers said bouncer was a nor­mal guy

Pizza par­lor boss re­calls a ‘toxic’ but ef­fec­tive em­ployee

Mas­sive fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion is just be­gin­ning

Trump in West Palm Beach. He bought a red Make Amer­ica Great Again cap, car­ried a poster mock­ing Trump crit­ics and joined the ex­cited throng in shout­ing “Lock her up!”

He plas­tered his van with stick­ers glo­ri­fy­ing Trump and su­per­im­pos­ing ri­fle-scope crosshairs on the faces of Hil­lary Clin­ton and Barack Obama. He be­gan be­rat­ing his les­bian boss at the pizza par­lor, telling her she would burn in hell with the blacks, His­pan­ics, Jews, Mus­lims and gays who were ru­in­ing Amer­ica.

At some point, author­i­ties say, he be­gan plot­ting a ven­ture that would fi­nally make an in­deli­ble mark. Sayoc al­legedly worked on it into the wee hours in­side his van — dubbed the MAGA mo­bile by peo­ple who saw it around town — which he of­ten parked by a Hol­ly­wood fu­neral home.

This Fri­day, nearly two years af­ter Trump de­feated Clin­ton for pres­i­dent and less than two weeks be­fore the Nov. 6 midterm elec­tions, Sayoc was ar­rested at a Plan­ta­tion AUTOZONE and charged with mail­ing pipe bombs to prom­i­nent Democrats around the coun­try, in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Obama. The manila en­velopes, re­plete with mis­spelled names and packed with crude ex­plo­sive ma­te­ri­als, passed through the Opa-locka postal fa­cil­ity just miles from where Sayoc, 56, grew up in Aven­tura and grad­u­ated from North Mi­ami Beach High School.

Sayoc, some­times de­scribed as a “no­body,” a “weirdo” and an “out­cast” by those who en­coun­tered him on so­cial me­dia or in per­son, trig­gered a fu­ri­ous FBI man­hunt when the pack­ages be­gan turn­ing up un­ex­ploded. It thrust the na­tion into a fear­ful frenzy over an at­tack of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism.

When he was ar­rested on Fri­day, Sayoc — bank­rupt, fore­closed upon, es­tranged from his fam­ily — was sud­denly some­thing else: fa­mous. He was now the MAGA bomber, the man at the cen­ter of a global dis­course on how nasty par­ti­san pol­i­tics are rip­ping apart the United States.

His al­leged bomb-mak­ing spree was soon eclipsed by some­thing even more ter­ri­fy­ing. As Sayoc waited in a prison cell Satur­day for his first ap­pear­ance in fed­eral court on Mon­day, a 46-year-old man yelling “Kill all the Jews!” shot and killed 11 peo­ple and wounded six oth­ers who were at­tend­ing a ser­vice at a Pitts­burgh syn­a­gogue.

“It’s a ter­ri­ble thing what’s go­ing on with hate in this coun­try,” the pres­i­dent said of the mass shoot­ing, be­fore head­ing out to a rally in South­ern Illi­nois.

Sayoc, by all ac­counts, was show­ing signs of un­set­tling be­hav­ior around the time of the ear­lier Trump rally. His so­cial me­dia posts turned dark and con­spir­a­to­rial, with pic­tures of Hil­lary and Bill Clin­ton, Barack and Michelle Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Al Sharp­ton, Eric Holder, An­der­son Cooper and Rachel Mad­dow and ref­er­ences to Beng­hazi, il­le­gal email server, me­dia col­lu­sion and CNN be­low the words “Swamp to be drained!”

He posted a video ti­tled “Satan Sent Obama to De­stroy Amer­ica” and wished for all lib­er­als to depart the U.S. via the Mex­i­can bor­der.

“When he found out I was a les­bian, he told me I should burn in hell and I was a de­for­mity, that God made a mis­take with me and I should go on an is­land with Hil­lary Clin­ton and Rachel Mad­dow and Ellen De­generes and Presi- dent Barack Obama and all the mis­fits of the world,” said De­bra Gureghian, the gen­eral man­ager at New River Pizza & Fresh Kitchen in Fort Laud­erdale, where Sayoc worked from Jan­uary 2017 to Jan­uary 2018.

She said Sayoc pro­claimed his love for Adolf Hitler and eth­nic cleans­ing.

On the other hand, Gureghian said Sayoc was a well-groomed, colognewear­ing, re­li­able em­ployee and she did not feel threat­ened by him, de­spite the hunt­ing knife he car­ried. One rainy night when he gave her a ride home, she saw the in­te­rior of the van. It was filled with dirty gym clothes, crum­pled fast-food bags, beer and vodka bot­tles and bot­tles of vi­ta­mins.

“I can’t be­lieve he could pull this off,” Gureghian said of the ac­cu­sa­tions against Sayoc.

Ron Lowy, a Mi­ami lawyer who rep­re­sented Sayoc on pre­vi­ous charges of shoplift­ing, steroid pos­ses­sion and threat­en­ing to blow up Florida Power & Light “worse than 9/11” be­cause his power was shut off af­ter he failed to pay a bill, said Sayoc had been liv­ing in a fan­tasy world for a long time.

“When he first came to my of­fice in 2001 he showed me a scrap­book with pho­tos of him­self as a naked ex­otic strip­per, a body­builder, a wrestler, a DJ, what­ever non­sense and not what I wanted to see,” Lowy said. “He wanted to show he’s im­por­tant. He has friends. He wanted some­thing to be proud of.”

Sayoc was liv­ing at the time in a dif­fer­ent van that was plas­tered with Na­tive Amer­i­can and Semi­nole Tribe stick­ers. Sayoc in­sisted he was a mem­ber of the Semi­nole Tribe of Florida, although the tribe de­nies he had any af­fil­i­a­tion.

Sayoc was born in Brook­lyn, New York. His father was Filipino and his mother, Made­line Giardiello, is of Ital­ian de­scent. Lowy, who is a fam­ily friend, said Sayoc’s prob­lems be­gan when his father left the fam­ily and re­turned to the Philip­pines.

“It’s nat­u­ral that Ce­sar has aban­don­ment is­sues, is­sues of self-worth, ne­glect. Am I a mis­take, am I hated?” said Lowy, who con­cluded that the “con­fused, im­ma­ture and inar­tic­u­late” Sayoc was men­tally ill.

“We got him pro­ba­tion be­cause we did not have a men­tal health court in Dade County at that time,” Lowy said. “There were not enough signs then that he’d be­come a bomber, but he needed treat­ment. In all th­ese in­ci­dents the out­siders like Niko­las Cruz and Ce­sar Sayoc have one thing in com­mon — they have no one that they con­nect with. They feel they are out­casts.”

Lowy said Sayoc was ripe for con­ver­sion to a po­lit­i­cal cause be­cause of his con­stant fail­ures in his search for iden­tity, Lowy said.

In ef­fect, Sayoc found a tribe he could join and a mis­sion to pur­sue, Lowy said. Trump was like a sur­ro­gate father, he added.

Sayoc’s spi­ral be­gan much ear­lier, ac­cord­ing to his cousin, Lenny Altieri. It was in 2004, when Sayoc was driv­ing to a wrestling school in In­di­ana run by the pro­fes­sional grap­pler Har­ley Race. He got busted with a trunk full of steroids.

“That ended the dream,” Altieri said. He never made it to the school.

Be­fore that ar­rest, Sayoc was a male strip­per, Altieri said. But he was get­ting too old for that. He was rel­e­gated to work­ing the door and mon­i­tor­ing cham­pagne rooms at Toot­sie’s and at Pure Plat­inum.

Altieri said Sayoc’s grand­par­ents in Hol­ly­wood took him in for a few years be­fore he ended up on the street, show­er­ing at the Hol­ly­wood beach and liv­ing in his van, which would also dou­ble, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral author­i­ties, as his bomb-mak­ing cham­ber.

“His life was full of dis­ap­point­ments,” Altieri said. “He kept hav­ing ob­sta­cles in his way. He moved from fam­ily mem­ber to fam­ily mem­ber. I feel bad for this kid. I re­ally do.”

Sayoc’s mother was in a hos­pi­tal re­cov­er­ing from surgery Fri­day when she saw cov­er­age of Sayoc’s ar­rest on tele­vi­sion. She has not seen or spo­ken to him in years, said Enid Weis­man, mayor of Aven­tura and a friend of Giardiello, who is an ar­dent Demo­crat who has cam­paigned for lo­cal can­di­dates.

“This is dev­as­tat­ing for her,” Weis­man said. “This is a good fam­ily that cares about the com­mu­nity. She is warm, friendly, the first per­son to of­fer help to any­body.”

At the Ul­tra Gentle­men’s Club in West Palm Beach, where he worked a Thurs­day shift hours be­fore his ar­rest, it was busi­ness as usual on Fri­day night, with pole-danc­ing women work­ing in­side the dingy, smoky bar. He was “just one of the guys,” said a dancer.

An­other re­called how he’d walk her to her car in the early morn­ing hours to make sure she was safe.

Her­ald staff writ­ers Alex Har­ris, Charles Rabin, Carol Marbin Miller and Julie Brown con­trib­uted to this re­port.


Sayoc pre­sented him­self as an un­abashed sup­porter of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Sayoc has as­sumed a num­ber of col­or­ful iden­ti­ties over the years, as ev­i­denced by th­ese scrap­book pho­tos.

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