DNA, fin­ger­print match helped lead FBI to mail bomb sus­pect

The Standard Journal - - CLASSIFIEDS - By Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Colleen Long

A Florida man with a crim­i­nal his­tory and a fer­vor for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump sent at least 13 mail bombs to prom­i­nent Democrats, Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials said, cred­it­ing DNA, a fin­ger­print match and mis­spellings for the key break in a case that spread fear of elec­tion-sea­son vi­o­lence with lit­tle prece­dent in the U.S.

Ce­sar Sayoc, 56, of Aven­tura, Florida, faces five fed­eral charges in con­nec­tion with a mail bomb plot that spurred a week­long, coast-to-coast in­ves­ti­ga­tion that con­tin­ued even af­ter he was taken into cus­tody Fri­day as in­ves­ti­ga­tors scru­ti­nized ad­di­tional sus­pi­cious pack­ages in­tended for Democrats.

Sayoc will make his first court ap­pear­ance next week, where ad­di­tional de­tails may be re­vealed about a mo­tive. In the mean­time, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions sug­gested that pol­i­tics may have played a role and noted that Sayoc ap­peared to be a “par­ti­san.” Those who saw him in the Florida neigh­bor­hood, un­mis­tak­able in a white van plas­tered with Trump’s im­age and po­lit­i­cal stick­ers, de­scribed him as un­set­tling and trou­bled.

Sayoc’s so­cial me­dia pro­files por­tray a deeply dis­af­fected con­ser­va­tive who traf­ficked in on­line con­spir­acy the­o­ries, par­ody ac­counts and name-call­ing. He called a Florida school shoot­ing sur­vivor a “fake phony,” ped­dled the­o­ries about Ge­orge Soros, the bil­lion­aire po­lit­i­cal donor tar­geted this week by a pack­age bomb, and den­i­grated other Democrats who were later the in­tended re­cip­i­ents of ex­plo­sive pack­ages.

An ama­teur body builder and for­mer strip­per who once spent time on pro­ba­tion for a bomb threat charge, Sayoc first reg­is­tered as a Repub­li­can voter just ahead of the March 2016 Repub­li­can pri­mary and quickly iden­ti­fied him­self as a proud Trump sup­porter, tweet­ing and post­ing on Facebook videos that ap­pear to show him at Trump ral­lies.

He ap­peared to be liv­ing in his van, show­er­ing on the beach or at a lo­cal fit­ness cen­ter.

Sayoc’s ar­rest Fri­day was a ma­jor break­through in the na­tion­wide man­hunt fol­low­ing the dis­cov­ery of the ex­plo­sive de­vices — none of which det­o­nated — ad­dressed to prom­i­nent Democrats and other fre­quent tar­gets of con­ser­va­tive ire, in­clud­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, Hil­lary Clin­ton and the ca­ble net­work CNN. On Fri­day, new pack­ages ad­dressed to New Jer­sey Sen. Cory Booker and for­mer Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Di­rec­tor James Clap­per were in­ter­cepted — both sim­i­lar to those con­tain­ing pipe bombs dis­cov­ered ear­lier in the week. In­ves­ti­ga­tors in Cal­i­for­nia scru­ti­nized a pack­age sent to Demo­cratic Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris, her of­fice said, and one sent to Tom Steyer, a bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man who has cam­paigned for months for Trump’s im­peach­ment.

The mail bombs, com­ing shortly be­fore ma­jor midterm elec­tions, sparked a heated na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about the hard-edged po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and Trump’s role in fanning the flames. The pres­i­dent has branded the me­dia the “en­emy of the peo­ple” and hurled harsh, per­sonal in­sults at oth­ers tar­geted in the plot.

Shortly af­ter Sayoc was de­tained, Trump de­clared that “we must never al­low po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence to take root in Amer­ica” and that Amer­i­cans “must unify.”

Speak­ing later to re­porters Fri­day evening be­fore leav­ing for a po­lit­i­cal rally in North Carolina, Trump said he knows Sayoc sup­ported him but that he him­self “bears no blame.” Hours ear­lier Trump had com­plained via tweet that “this ‘bomb’ stuff” was tak­ing at­ten­tion away from the up­com­ing elec­tion and that crit­ics were wrongly blam­ing him.

FBI and po­lice of­fi­cials worked swiftly to un­tan­gle clues this week as the pack­ages mounted, some­times sev­eral in the same day.

The big break came when a fin­ger­print found on one of the pack­ages, in­tended for Cal­i­for­nia Rep. Max­ine Waters, matched a fin­ger­print of Sayoc’s on file with Florida au­thor­i­ties. A DNA sam­ple from a de­vice in­tended for Obama sim­i­larly matched the sus­pect’s DNA, the FBI said.

An ad­di­tional clue: Mis­spellings from his on­line posts matched mis­takes found on the pack­ages, ac­cord­ing to an 11-page crim­i­nal com­plaint that in­cluded the for­mal charges of threat­en­ing for­mer pres­i­dents and trans­port­ing ex­plo­sives across state lines.

Some pack­ages in­cluded pho­to­graphs of the in­tended re­cip­i­ents marked with a red “x,” the FBI said. The pack­ages con­tained timers and bat­ter­ies, but were not rigged to ex­plode upon open­ing. Of­fi­cials were uncertain whether the de­vices were poorly de­signed or never in­tended to cause phys­i­cal harm.

Au­thor­i­ties noted that they in­cluded “en­er­getic ma­te­rial.” A foot­note to the charg­ing doc­u­ment said such ex­plo­sive ma­te­rial “gives off heat and en­ergy through a rapid exother­mic re­ac­tion when ini­ti­ated by heat, shock or fric­tion.”

“These are not hoax de­vices,” FBI Di­rec­tor Chris Wray said.

Sayoc was ar­rested near an auto parts store in Plan­ta­tion, Florida, north of Mi­ami. Across the street, Thomas Fiori, a for­mer fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, said he saw about 50 armed of­fi­cers swarm a man stand­ing out­side a white van. They or­dered him to the ground, Fiori said, and he did not re­sist.

“He had that look of, ‘I’m done, I sur­ren­der,’” Fiori said.

Sayoc ap­pears to have been liv­ing on the mar­gins, reg­u­larly run­ning into trou­ble with the law and strug­gling to make ends meet. He was re­peat­edly ar­rested for theft in the 1990s, faced felony charges of pos­ses­sion of an­abolic steroids in 2004 and was con­victed of grand theft in 2014. In 2002, he served a year of pro­ba­tion for a felony charge of threat­en­ing to throw or place a bomb.

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