Of­fi­cials: Van used to build bombs

Merced Sun-Star (Saturday) - - Front Page - BY JAY WEAVER, DAVID OVALLE, ALEX HAR­RIS AND CHARLES RABIN

The prime sus­pect in a string of mail bombs tar­get­ing prom­i­nent Democrats was es­sen­tially home­less in South Florida, liv­ing in his van and also build­ing his dan­ger­ous de­vices in the ve­hi­cle, law en­force­ment sources told the Mi­ami Her­ald on Fri­day.

Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors towed the ve­hi­cle away from the park­ing lot at an Au­toZone in Plan­ta­tion, Florida, shortly af­ter ar­rest­ing Ce­sar Sayoc, a 56year-old ar­dent body­builder, for­mer strip­per and self-de­scribed en­ter­tain­ment pro­moter from Aven­tura with a lengthy list of ar­rests – in­clud­ing for a bomb threat in Mi­ami-Dade in 2002 over a pricey elec­tric bill.

His van, plas­tered with at­tacks on crit­ics of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, is con­sid­ered crit­i­cal in the fed­eral case against Sayoc be­cause it is full of bomb-mak­ing ma­te­ri­als and other ev­i­dence link­ing him to the mail­ing of 13 po­ten­tially ex­plo­sive de­vices from Florida to po­lit­i­cal tar­gets around the coun­try, sources said. They also be­lieve that Sayoc had been liv­ing in the large older model camper-style van for some time, though his of­fi­cial ad­dress was an Aven­tura condo where his mother lives.

He re­cently had ap­par­ently worked as a pizza de­liv­ery man at a Papa John’s in Hol­ly­wood. Richard Founds, a home­less man, said Sayoc would park his van next to a nearby fu­neral home to sleep. But he also dis­played gen­eros­ity.

“He walked by dis­creetly and gave us a dol­lar or two and he

parked his truck around the cor­ner,” said Founds.

Pho­tos of the van, posted by a Twit­ter user who said he saw the car at a stop­light in April, show ri­fle scope cross hairs placed over the faces of Hil­lary Clin­ton, pro­gres­sive film­maker Michael Moore and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. An­other said “CNN Sucks,” along with an im­age of Trump stand­ing on a tank in front of fire­works and an Amer­i­can flag.

Sayoc was be­ing held at the fed­eral de­ten­tion cen­ter in Mi­ami, af­ter be­ing ques­tioned by FBI agents, and is ex­pected to make his first ap­pear­ance in fed­eral court on Mon­day to face five fed­eral charges, in­clud­ing il­le­gal mail­ing of ex­plo­sives.

A trail of tell-tale clues helped in­ves­ti­ga­tors quickly fo­cus the na­tion­wide man­hunt on Sayoc. Among the con­nec­tions: a la­tent finger­print on an en­ve­lope sent to Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Max­ine Wa­ters along with DNA residue on two de­vices sent to Wa­ters and for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. They matched with DNA records col­lected from Sayoc in pre­vi­ous Florida crim­i­nal cases. Agents also scru­ti­nized Sayoc’s vo­lu­mi­nous so­cial me­dia posts, his cell­phone records and his move­ments through­out South Florida to carry out the threats against Demo­cratic tar­gets.

“We do be­lieve that we’ve caught the right per­son,” FBI di­rec­tor Christo­pher Wray said at a news con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton. “Once I knew they [the FBI] had a print, I was pretty con­fi­dent we’d be able to find the right per­son.”

Wray would not say whether there might be other po­ten­tial sus­pects as­so­ci­ated with the pack­ages, cit­ing an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion. “This is phe­nom­e­nal work with the great­est pres­sure un­der and in­cred­i­bly tight time frame,” Wray said. “We see this work on TV and in Hol­ly­wood but to see it in re­al­ity is some­thing to be­hold.”

Sayoc was for­mally charged Fri­day af­ter­noon with in­ter­state trans­porta­tion of an ex­plo­sive, il­le­gal mail­ing of ex­plo­sives, threats against a for­mer pres­i­dent and other high­rank­ing for­mer gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, threat­en­ing in­ter­state com­mu­ni­ca­tions and as­sault­ing fed­eral of­fi­cers. The five charges carry a po­ten­tial 58 years in to­tal jail time if Sayoc is con­victed, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions said.

Trump, in a speech given shortly af­ter Sayoc’s ar­rest, praised the speed of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and con­demned acts of po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence.

“Con­grat­u­la­tions to all law en­force­ment. We have the best in the world and they just showed it,” he said.

The ar­rest was made at an Au­toZone in Plan­ta­tion in­stead of his home to avoid any po­ten­tial dan­ger­ous con­fronta­tion, sources told the Mi­ami Her­ald. News part­ner CBS4 re­ports a “loud ex­plo­sion” was heard at the time of the ar­rest, pos­si­bly from an FBI flash bomb de­vice.

Sayoc was a fre­quent poster on so­cial me­dia sites and his Twit­ter and Face­book ac­counts were filled with pro-Trump memes and at­tacks on Democrats – in­clud­ing a string link­ing An­drew Gil­lum, the Demo­cratic can­di­date for Florida gover­nor, with bil­lion­aire Ge­orge Soros, a ma­jor party donor and re­cip­i­ent of one of the men­ac­ing mail­ings. A body-builder, he also liked to post pho­tos of him­self bare-chested and flex­ing, in one, sprawled across a mo­tor­cy­cle.

In Feb­ru­ary 2004, Sayoc was ar­rested and charged by the Broward Sher­iff’s Of­fice with four counts of pos­ses­sion of steroids with in­tent to sell – a felony charge. He pleaded not guilty and the case was dis­missed a year later.

Court records show he had nearly a dozen past ar­rests, in­clud­ing one in­volv­ing a bomb threat in 2002 in MI­ami-Dade to a Florida Power & Light em­ployee over a ex­pen­sive elec­tric bill.

“The de­fen­dant then stated that he didn’t de­serve it and that he was go­ing to blow up FPL,” ac­cord­ing to files re­leased by the Mi­ami-Dade State At­tor­ney’s Of­fice. “FPL will get what they de­serve and will be worse than 9/11.”

Sayoc also told an em­ployee he “was go­ing to blow her head off,” ac­cord­ing to the case file. The call was recorded and Sayoc was later ar­rested by FDLE agents.

Other cases in­cluded grand theft and bat­tery in Broward County. In 1994, a woman who ap­pears to be his grand­mother filed and then quickly with­drew a crim­i­nal com­plaint against him for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

State records show he’s a se­rial en­tre­pre­neur, list­ing him most re­cently as a man­ager of a Hal­lan­dale Beach cater­ing com­pany. But the mail­ing ad­dress for the cater­ing com­pany was a post of­fice box. In a de­po­si­tion in a fed­eral law­suit, he said had worked as a dancer and had spent 35 years the strip club in­dus­try. His LinkedIn ac­count listed his oc­cu­pa­tions as “pro­moter, book­ing agent, live en­ter­tain­ment, owner, chore­og­ra­pher.”

WILFREDO LEE AP

An FBI agent and a de­tec­tive look for clues at the Au­toZone store in Plan­ta­tion, Fla., where mail-bomb sus­pect Ce­sar Sayoc was taken into cus­tody Fri­day morn­ing.

AMY BETH BEN­NETT TNS

The van be­lieved to be owned by bomb­ing sus­pect Ce­sar Sayoc is trans­ferred to the FBI head­quar­ters.

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