Bomb suspect found identity in resentment
Cesar Sayoc was a volatile person desperate for attention.
He styled himself as a bodybuilder, entrepreneur, member of the Seminole tribe and exotic-dance promoter in the statushungry beachfront world of South Florida. In reality, Sayoc, a fervent supporter of President Donald Trump who has been charged with mailing pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, was a bankrupt loner who spewed anger and spent years living in and out of a van, according to court documents and interviews with people who knew him.
Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Fla., faces five federal charges in connection with a mail bomb plot that spurred a weeklong, coastto-coast investigation that continued even after he was taken into custody Friday as investigators scrutinized additional suspicious packages intended for Democrats, according to Associated Press reports.
Sayoc will make his first court appearance next week, where additional details may be revealed about a motive. Justice Department officials credit DNA, a fingerprint match and misspellings for the key break in the case.
Sayoc went on racist, anti-gay tirades at the Fort Lauderdale pizza shop where he worked as a night-shift deliveryman in 2017, telling his manager, a lesbian, that she and other gay people along with Democrats should all be put onto an island and then “nuked.” At a reunion event in 2015 with his college soccer team, he browbeat former team members with racist, sexist conspiracy theories.
And when Sayoc’s mother and sisters urged him to seek mental-health treatment, he furiously repelled their efforts and told his mother he hated her, said Ronald Lowy, a lawyer for the family who also represented Sayoc in a 2002 case in which he threatened to bomb an electric company during a dispute over a bill. He refused to even listen when his mother reminded Sayoc that he was Filipino and Italian, not Seminole, Lowy said.
“He had tremendous anger slowly boiling up, and resentment, and felt ‘less than,’ ” Lowy said. “He lacked an identity. He created a persona.”
When they first met, Lowy said, Sayoc brought in a scrapbook filled with notes and photographs he had collected from wrestlers, bodybuilders and strippers, table scraps from a world he idolized.
“He comes across like a 15-year-old,” Lowy said. “He has a total lack of maturity.”
Lowy said that Sayoc’s family members were Democrats and that Sayoc seemed to have no outspoken partisan views during the 2002 case. But he said that Trump’s angry rhetoric and his appeals to the “forgotten man and woman” during the 2016 campaign seemed to strike a deep chord with Sayoc, whose father had abandoned the family when he was a child.
“He was looking for some type of parental figure and being a loner, being an outcast, being the kind of person Trump speaks to, I think he was attracted to Trump as a father figure,” Lowy said.
Sayoc registered as a Republican and posted photographs of himself wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat at one of Trump’s rallies.
On Twitter and Facebook, he railed against former President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey with misspelled racial epithets, threatened former Vice President Joe Biden and praised Trump and conservative causes. His social-media feeds were an electronic version of the white van carted away by law-enforcement officials Friday morning, which was covered in stickers praising Trump, condemning liberals and putting cross-hairs over an image of Hillary Clinton.
While Sayoc’s sisters are successful and his mother ran her own cosmetics business, Sayoc bumped between jobs, arrests, apartments and his van. He once lived in a comfortable neighborhood of singlestory homes in the Coral Ridge Isles neighborhood of Fort Lauderdale, but lost the home in a 2009 foreclosure.
His finances deteriorated to the point that he filed for bankruptcy in 2012, saying that he had just $4,175 worth of assets. But he still struck an outward posture of success. During a 2014 deposition in a labor lawsuit between a DJ and the owners of a South Florida nightclub, Sayoc boasted that he had played professional soccer for AC Milan in Italy and arena football in Arizona. He also claimed he owned a dry-cleaning business and was studying to be a veterinarian.
“He was the kind of guy who was maybe sweeping
‘‘ HE HAD TREMENDOUS ANGER SLOWLY BOILING UP … . HE LACKED AN IDENTITY. HE CREATED A PERSONA.
Ronald Lowy, who represented Cesar Sayok in a 2002 case
floors at Apple but would tell you he and Jobs invented the computer together,” said David McDonald, a lawyer in Miami who represented the nightclub owners in the labor dispute.
He had a short-lived marriage to a woman identified in court papers as Roberta Altieri that ended in divorce in Oklahoma City in 2004, according to court records. Billie Mode, the mother of his ex-wife, said the couple worked in strip clubs and were married just two months.
“They were dancers,” Mode said. “They went on the circuit together.”
Sayoc also had a long criminal record that included multiple shoplifting and theft charges. Once he was arrested while carrying $19,000 worth of cash.
In May 2015, he told police that someone had broken into his van while he was working out at LA Fitness – where he had been showering – and stole about $45,000 worth of suits and costumes he needed for his business. It is unclear whether he actually had anything worth that much in the van, or whether he was making the report as pretext to make a false insurance claim.
Even then, he had an affinity for Trump: The Broward Sheriff’s Office report notes that of the 139 pieces he said were taken, 11 were the president’s clothing brand.
Scott B. Saul, a defense lawyer who represented Sayoc when he wanted to loosen the terms of his probation several years ago, said Sayoc’s behavior suggested something was amiss, recounting that “he came across passive, and with a sense of insecurity.”
“He appeared to be his own island,” he said.
According to employees at Ultra Gentleman’s Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., Cesar Sayoc worked as a disc jockey and floor bouncer there for two months.