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.