Ce­sar Sayoc, lost and an­gry, found his tribe with Trump

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY MAR­TIN VASSOLO, SARAH BLASKEY AND LINDA ROBERT­SON lrobert­son@mi­ami­her­ald.com

Ac­cused mail bomber Ce­sar Sayoc, a pizza de­liv­ery­man and strip club “floor­man” liv­ing in his van, never found suc­cess at any of the roles he imag­ined for him­self — un­til he be­came a Trump war­rior and took cen­ter stage as al­leged per­pe­tra­tor of a na­tional cri­sis.

Ce­sar Sayoc lived on the crummy strip-mall fringes of South Florida, sleep­ing in a van that stank of dirty laun­dry, de­liv­er­ing piz­zas on the grave­yard shift and work­ing as “floor­man” in­side a smoky, dimly lit gentle­men’s club where naked dancers gy­rated me­chan­i­cally for dol­lar tips from boozy cus­tomers.

Sayoc was al­ways sev­eral rungs lower on the lad­der than he as­pired to be and ex­ag­ger­ated the cal­iber of roles he chose for him­self. He said he was a Chip­pen­dales dancer, a cham­pion body­builder, a pro­fes­sional wrestler, a pop­u­lar DJ, a dry clean­ing busi­ness whiz and a vet­eri­nary medicine stu­dent who had once played soc­cer for AC Mi­lan in the Ital­ian league.

Sayoc, who some­times used the mis­spelled han­dle Ju­lus Ce­sar, liked to brag about own­ing a strip club, the Cae­sar’s Palace Royale. It ex­isted only in his mind.

In South Florida, where the sun shines year round, dreams and schemes grow like hot­house flow­ers. Sayoc fi­nally found his true call­ing two years ago at a rally for Don­ald

The quick ar­rest of a home­less man liv­ing in his van on charges of send­ing more than a dozen mail bombs to no­table Democrats around the coun­try may have sig­naled the cli­max of a mas­sive fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion dur­ing the past week — but it’s far from over.

Fed­eral agents are still search­ing for other pos­si­ble sus­pects in South Florida who may have helped Ce­sar Sayoc, the for­mer strip­per and self­de­scribed en­ter­tain­ment pro­moter who was ar­rested Fri­day at an auto parts store in Plan­ta­tion.

Fri­day night, FBI agents ques­tioned a per­son at a Broward County res­i­dence with a po­ten­tial con­nec­tion to Sayoc, but noth­ing came of the in­ter­view, ac­cord­ing to law en­force­ment sources fa­mil­iar with the probe.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors are also an­a­lyz­ing Sayoc’s im­pounded van, in which he lived and al­legedly built the pipe bombs. It con­tains a trove of valu­able ev­i­dence, from ex­plo­sivede­vice ma­te­ri­als to cred­it­card re­ceipts. They say the ve­hi­cle, cov­ered with at­tacks on crit­ics of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, di­rectly links the 56-year-old Aven­tura man to the crime of mail­ing ex­plo­sive de­vices from South Florida to the Demo­cratic tar­gets. Among them: for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, for­mer pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton, ac­tor Robert DeNiro and bil­lion­aire fi­nancier and po­lit­i­cal mega-donor Ge­orge Soros.

Ac­cord­ing to sources, Sayoc told FBI agents and other author­i­ties dur­ing a brief in­ter­view at the bureau’s South Florida field of­fice in Mi­ra­mar that he never meant to hurt any of the in­tended tar­gets — though the FBI’s di­rec­tor later said the pipe bombs were not “hoax de­vices.” Sayoc even­tu­ally clammed up, in­vok­ing his Mi­randa rights and ask­ing to speak with a lawyer.

De­spite al­legedly com­mit­ting prac­ti­cally the en­tire mail-bomb­ing cam­paign from South Florida, Sayoc will be whisked away to New York af­ter ap­pear­ing in fed­eral court in Mi­ami for a re­moval hear­ing on Mon­day. He will be pros­e­cuted by the U.S. At­tor­ney’s Of­fice in the South­ern District of New York, based on ev­i­dence that at least five of the 14 pack­ages were sent to that area, in­clud­ing CNN’s of­fices in Man­hat­tan.

Many crim­i­nal and le­gal ex­perts in South Florida called the New York U.S. At­tor­ney Of­fice’s takeover of the case a clas­sic “power grab” of a na­tional case that re­ally be­longs in South Florida. One for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor said Mi­ami’s new U.S. at­tor­ney, Ari­ana Fa­jardo Or­shan, got a “dose of the SDNY.”

Dur­ing a Fri­day news con­fer­ence at the Jus­tice De­part­ment in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Fa­jardo was con­spic­u­ously ab­sent from the stage of se­nior of­fi­cials, which in­cluded At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, FBI Di­rec­tor Christo­pher Wray and the U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern District of New York, Ge­of­frey Ber­man.

Wray cred­ited the “phe- nom­e­nal work” of fed­eral agents and FBI lab ex­perts along with state and lo­cal po­lice in New York, the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., area, Delaware, Florida and Cal­i­for­nia, where author­i­ties say the bomb-filled manilla en­velopes were sent by Sayoc since MIDOC­TO­BER. All of the pack­ages, which had the re­turn ad­dress of the con­gres­sional of­fice of U.S. Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz, were routed through a U.S. Postal Ser­vice mail sort­ing fa­cil­ity in Opa-locka.

A trail of tell­tale 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 Obama. They matched with DNA records kept by the Florida De­part­ment of Law En­force­ment that were col­lected from Sayoc in pre­vi­ous state crim­i­nal cases.

Wray thanked FDLE for “their very quick work” in help­ing make the DNA con­nec­tion be­fore Sayoc’s ar­rest on Fri­day morn­ing. “We do be­lieve that we’ve caught the right per­son,” he said. “Once I knew they [the FBI] had a print, I was pretty con­fi­dent we’d be able to find the right per- son.”

Agents also scru­ti­nized Sayoc’s vo­lu­mi­nous so­cial me­dia posts, his cell­phone records and his move­ments through­out South Florida to link him to the threats against Demo­cratic tar­gets. Sources told the Mi­ami Her­ald that those database searches did not re­veal ev­i­dence that Sayoc was in­flu­enced by any ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing ISIS. The no­to­ri­ous Mid­dle Eastern ter­ror­ist group’s pro­pa­ganda has been posted on so­cial me­dia of sev­eral con­victed felons who at­tempted to carry out past bomb­ings in South Florida.

Wray would not say if there might be other po­ten­tial sus­pects as­so­ci­ated with the pack­ages, cit­ing the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Sayoc, who is be­ing held at the fed­eral de­ten­tion cen­ter in down­town Mi­ami, was ar­rested on a crim­i­nal com­plaint on charges of 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 prison time if Sayoc is con­victed, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ses­sions said.

EMILY MICHOT emi­chot@mi­ami­her­ald.com

Po­lice gather out­side the Aven­tura condo at 18151 NE 31st Ct. where 56-year-old, bomb­ing sus­pect Ce­sar Sayoc was once re­ported to live.

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