In this undated photo released by the Broward County Sheriff's office, Cesar Sayoc is seen in a booking photo, in Miami. Federal authorities took Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Fla., into custody Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 in Florida in connection with the mail-bomb scare that earlier widened to 12 suspicious packages, the FBI and Justice Department said. (Broward County Sheriff's Office via AP)

Mail Bomb Suspect Charged With 5 Federal Crimes

October 26, 2018 - 8:07 pm
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WASHINGTON (WCBS 880/AP) — A Florida man with a long criminal history was charged Friday in the nationwide mail-bomb scare targeting prominent Democrats who have traded criticism with President Donald Trump.

Justice Department officials revealed that a latent fingerprint found on one package sent to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California helped them identify their suspect as Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Florida. The criminal complaint charges Sayoc with illegally mailing explosives, illegally transporting explosives across state lines, making threats against former presidents, assaulting federal officers and threatening interstate commerce.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the charges carry a maximum of 48 years in prison. Sayoc will be prosecuted in New York, where five of the 12 devices were found. 

In Washington, Sessions cautioned that Sayoc had only been charged, not convicted. But he said, "Let this be a lesson to anyone regardless of their political beliefs that we will bring the full force of law against anyone who attempts to use threats, intimidation and outright violence to further an agenda. We will find you, we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

Session announced the charges Friday just hours after federal authorities arrested Sayoc at an AutoZone in South Florida. Sayoc, an amateur bodybuilder, former stripper and ardent supporter of President Donald Trump who pushed far-right conspiracy theories online, has a long criminal history in Florida and was born in New York, CBS News' Senior Producer Pat Milton said. 

A witness told CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez that authorities caught up with the suspect in the AutoZone parking lot and used a flash bang to startle and subdue Sayoc. The witness said Sayoc did not put up a fight and almost looked like he was giving up.

The development came amid a nationwide manhunt for the person responsible for at least 13 explosive devices addressed to prominent Democrats including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. The case continued widening Friday even as Sayoc was detained, as investigators in California scrutinized a similar package sent to Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, her office said.

Sayoc lived in a white 2002 Dodge Ram van, which was plastered with stickers supporting Trump and criticizing media outlets that included CNN, which was also targeted by mail bombs.

In Florida, law enforcement officers were seen on television examining a white van, its windows covered with an assortment of stickers, outside the Plantation auto parts store. Authorities covered the vehicle with a blue tarp and took it away on the back of a flatbed truck. The stickers included images of American flags, and what appeared to be logos of the Republican National Committee, pro-Trump and anti-CNN, though the writing surrounding those images was unclear.

The van was often parked outside an LA Fitness in Aventura, backed up in a parking space under the trees for shade. Patrons say they frequently saw him in the locker room.

"He'd just be walking straight to the shower and be in the shower forever," said Edgar Lopez, who often exercises at the gym. "I never saw him working out."

Other times, the van was seen parked at the beach in nearby Hollywood before dawn, with Sayoc stripping down to skin-tight shorts for an outdoor shower.

"I've seen the guy maybe 80 times and I never said a word to him because I had a feeling he was a little off," said Marc Weiss, the superintendent of a building near where Sayoc frequently parked. "I assumed because he was showering at the beach that he was homeless."

In 2015, he reported to police that his van was broken into outside of a gym in Oakland Park, Florida. He claimed that more than $40,000 worth of items were stolen, including $7,150 worth of Donald Trump-brand suits.

But often, Sayoc was on the other side of legal complaints.

In the 2002 bomb threat case, he had lashed out at a Florida utility representative because his electricity service was about to be cut off. The arrest report said Sayoc threatened in a phone call to blow up the utility's offices and said that "It would be worse than September 11th."

Sayoc was also convicted in 2014 for grand theft and in 2013 for battery. In 2004, he faced several felony charges for unlawful possession of a synthetic anabolic steroid often used to help build muscles. He also had several arrests going back to the 1990s for theft, obtaining fraudulent refunds and tampering with evidence.

He had serious financial problems in recent years, including losing his home in foreclosure in 2009 and filling for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 2012.

In court records, Sayoc was described as having $4,175 in personal property and more than $21,000 in debts, mostly from unpaid credit cards. His monthly income at the time was $1,070.

During an address at the White House, President Donald Trump denounced political violence and and congratulated all law enforcement for making such a quick arrest.

Trump declared that "we must never allow political violence take root in America" and Americans "must unify." 

Earlier Friday, he complained that "this 'bomb' stuff" was taking attention away from the upcoming election and said critics were wrongly blaming him and his heated rhetoric.

Most of those targeted were past or present U.S. officials, but one was sent to actor Robert De Niro and billionaire George Soros. The bombs have been sent across the country - from New York, Delaware and Washington, D.C., to Florida and California, where Rep. Maxine Waters was targeted. They bore the return address of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

The common thread among the bomb targets was obvious: their critical words for Trump and his frequent, harsher criticism in return.

Sessions said he doesn't know why pipe bombs were sent to prominent Democrats and CNN but says Sayoc "appears to be a partisan.'' Sessions and other law enforcement officials are declining to speculate on whether the current divided political climate in America and Trump's rhetoric emboldened the man.

Florida voter records show Sayoc first registered in March 2016 as a Republican and cast a ballot in that November's presidential election.

He has been an active Trump supporter, tweeting and posting Facebook videos that appear to show him at the president's rallies.

Sayoc's social media accounts are peppered with memes supporting Trump, and denigrating Democrats. He tweeted at least 40 times a screenshot of a meme featuring the transparently false claim that Parkland mass-shooting survivor David Hogg never went to Stoneman Douglas High School, occasionally including hostile captions such as: "He is a George Soros paid protester." Soros, the billionaire progressive political donor, was targeted this week by a package bomb.

Altieri even seems to have stumbled across a Polish conspiracy news site, tweeting out a wildly false claim that Angela Merkel had been conceived using Adolf Hitler's frozen sperm.

In June, he praised Trump in a birthday message saying: "Happy Birthday President Donald J. Trump the greatest result President ever."

FBI Director Christopher Wray says it's too early to discuss a motive behind the pipe bombs. 

The devices were packaged in manila envelopes and carried U.S. postage stamps. They were being examined by technicians at the FBI's forensic lab in Quantico, Virginia.

Wray says the bombs were "not hoax devices." Each consisted of roughly six inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery, wiring and contained materials that could react and cause a potential explosion, Wray said.

Investigators were analyzing the innards of the crude devices to reveal whether they were intended to detonate or simply sow fear just before Election Day. 

Earlier Friday, authorities said suspicious packages addressed to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper had been intercepted.

The package sent to Clapper at CNN's Midtown Manhattan address was intercepted by a quick-thinking postal worker who recognized the package at the Radio City postal facility at 52nd Street and 8th Avenue in Midtown.

The NYC package was taken away by the NYPD Containment Vehicle, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported. It was taken by caravan in a container to Rodman's Neck - the NYPD firing range in the Bronx - to be tested and neutralized.

A suspicious box found in Central Park turned out to be a false alarm, Diamond reported.

Despite the arrest, Chief of Department Terence Monahan is warning New Yorkers not to let their guard down.

"Please continue to remain vigilant. There may still be more packages out there," he said.

Monahan and others heaped praise on the Bomb Squad, the group who raced across the city dealing with innocent packages and real bombs.

"What we ask of the bomb squad and the bomb techs from the FBI is to go where we ask no one else to go and to handle things we ask no one else to handle," Deputy Commissioner John Miller said.

Clapper said he is not surprised he has been targeted with a suspicious package.

Clapper told CNN Friday morning that the devices sent to prominent critics of President Donald Trump in recent days were "definitely domestic terrorism."

Clapper described the situation as "serious," but said it is "not going to silence the administration's critics."

The suspicious package addressed to Booker, a potential 2020 presidential contender, was found at a mail facility in South Florida.

Investigators believe the mailings were staggered. The U.S. Postal Service searched their facilities 48 hours ago and the most recent packages didn't turn up. Officials don't think they were sitting in the system without being spotted. They were working to determine for sure. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

The packages stoked nationwide tensions and fears as voters prepared to vote Nov. 6 to determine partisan control of Congress — a campaign both major political parties have described in near-apocalyptic terms.

The first crude bomb to be discovered was delivered Monday to the suburban New York compound of George Soros, a liberal billionaire and major contributor to Democratic causes. Soros has called Trump's presidency "dangerous."

Similar packages addressed to Clinton and Obama were intercepted on their way to Clinton's New York home, where she lives with former President Bill Clinton, and to Washington, where Obama lives with his wife, Michelle Obama. The Secret Service said neither package reached its intended recipient.

Other packages were sent to frequent Trump critics Waters, D-Calif., and former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder. His ended up at the Sunrise, Florida, office of Wasserman Schultz, who was listed as the return address.

Some of Sayoc's social media posts singled out the targets of the bombs.

(© 2018 WCBS 880. The Associated Press contributed to this report)