Man in Florida Arrested, Charged in Connection With Mail Bombs

(The Washington Post) —
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(R-L, foreground) Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray and NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill at a press conference at the Justice Department Friday, regarding the apprehension of a suspect in the spate of mail bombings this week. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

A man in Florida has been arrested in connection with the suspected mail bombs sent this week to high-profile figures.

The arrest came after authorities responded to two more devices on Friday – one in Florida, the other in New York – pushing the total number of packages found by law enforcement to 12. All of the devices were sent to people who have criticized or clashed with President Donald Trump. While none have detonated, officials have been on high alert and worried about whether more could be delivered.

The suspect is Cesar Sayoc, 56. Florida records show that Sayoc has a lengthy criminal record in the state, including a 2002 arrest for a bomb threat and others for larceny and fraud.

Sayoc was charged with transporting explosives across state lines, illegally mailing explosives, threatening former presidents and others, threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officials, according to charging documents. He faces up to 58 years in prison, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference announcing the charges.

His previous run-ins with law enforcement date back at least to an arrest for larceny when Sayoc was 29 years old, according to state records. Other charges of larceny, grand theft and fraud soon followed across the southern part of the state. In 2002, the Miami police arrested him for a bomb threat, a felony. Sayoc pleaded guilty without trial and was sentenced to probation, the records show.

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Cesar Sayoc in an undated booking photo in Miami. (Broward County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

According to the police report, Sayoc called Florida Power and Light, a power company, in August 2002 and threatened to blow them up.

“It would be worse than September 11th,” Sayoc said, according to the police report, which also said Sayoc threatened the company’s representative with physical harm if his electricity was turned off.

Sayoc declared bankruptcy in 2012, according to a court filing that said he lived with his mother at that time.

Daniel Aaronson, an attorney who has represented Sayoc over the years, said that none of his clients were “as polite and as courteous and as respectful to me” as Sayoc was. He said Sayoc never discussed his political views; if he had, it might have sparked a dispute.

“In fact, I am a Democrat,” Aaronson said. “I am very proud of some of the people that were targeted … so if he had said anything along those lines, I certainly would have noted it.”

Aaronson said he could not recall the precise years he represented Sayoc, but it was as recently as 2015. He represented him in cases in which Sayoc was charged with theft or grand theft.

“I’m astounded about everything,” Aaronson said. “When I woke up this morning, if you said here’s 100 of your clients, and he’s one of the 100, and one of those people is going to get arrested for this, I probably would pick out many, many more before I would pick him out.”

Speaking Friday at the White House, President Donald Trump called the suspected mail bombs “terrorizing acts” and praised law enforcement officers for the arrest in Florida.

“We will prosecute them, him, her, whoever it may be, to the fullest extent of the law,” he said at a White House event. “We must never allow political violence to take root in America, and I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and stop it now.”

Investigators began closing in on Sayoc on Thursday, as they traced the packages’ path to South Florida, and recovered evidence inside at least one of the packages pointing to him. Sayoc lives in Aventura, Fla., and investigators believe that many of the packages were processed at a nearby mail facility.

Shortly after news of the arrest broke, news cameras in South Florida captured authorities surrounding a van covered with political imagery featuring Trump; the van was covered in a blue tarp and taken away. It remains unclear if Sayoc acted alone or had help, according to someone familiar with the investigation.

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The van that federal agents are investigating in connection with the mail bombs, is transported on a flatbed tow truck in Miramar, Fla., on Friday. (Carline Jean/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

News of the arrest emerged as investigators recovered the latest explosive devices, packages sent to Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., former director of national intelligence James Clapper Jr., and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

The FBI said a package, “similar in appearance to the others” found this week, was addressed to Booker and located in Florida.

Police in New York said they were responding to a suspicious package in midtown Manhattan, just blocks from where one of the explosive devices was found earlier this week at CNN’s offices in the Time Warner Center. The package was “safely removed” from the post office, police said.

A law-enforcement official said that package was a device addressed to Clapper, a CNN contributor, and sent to him at the news network. This is the second time this week that a suspected explosive was sent to CNN and addressed to a former intelligence official turned cable news commentator. A device sent to CNN’s New York offices and addressed to John Brennan, the former CIA director, was found in the mail room there on Wednesday, prompting an hours-long evacuation.

The package sent to Clapper was found at a mail-sorting facility in New York City, the law-enforcement official said. CNN President Jeff Zucker sent a message to staffers confirming that a suspicious package addressed to CNN was intercepted at a post office, and he reiterated that “all mail to CNN domestic offices is being screened at off-site facilities.”

Clapper appeared on CNN shortly after news broke that a package was addressed to him, saying he felt relief no one was harmed by that device.

“This is definitely domestic terrorism, no doubt about it in my mind,” he said. Clapper said that anyone who has criticized Trump should take extra precautions when handling their mail, adding: “This is not going to silence the administration’s critics.”

A suspicious package addressed to Harris, found Friday at a Sacramento mail facility, is also suspected to have been sent by Sayoc, a law-enforcement official said. An aide to Harris said her office was told the package was similar to the others that had been sent to public figures. Tom Steyer, a major Democratic donor, also said Friday that a suspicious package mailed to him was intercepted in California; it was not immediately clear if that package was linked to the others.

Authorities intensified their hunt for a serial mail bomber in recent days after suspected explosives were delivered to a string of political figures and others who have publicly clashed with Trump. On Thursday, the FBI said three suspected pipe bombs were found – one in celebrity Robert De Niro’s Manhattan office, and two in mail facilities in Delaware addressed to former vice president Joe Biden.

“I thank G-d no one’s been hurt, and I thank the brave and resourceful security and law enforcement people for protecting us,” De Niro said in a statement Friday, before going on to urge people to vote.

The wave of packages began this week with an explosive device sent to George Soros, a billionaire activist known to fund liberal political groups. Then came packages addressed to former president Barack Obama; former secretary of state Hillary Clinton; Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; Eric Holder Jr., Obama’s first attorney general; and Brennan.

One of the packages was recovered at a South Florida office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., because her name was listed as the return address. Current and former investigators have said this suggested she was a possible target of the attacks.

All of the bomber’s targets have clashed sharply with Trump at different times, and the spate of dangerous packages intensified the already full-throated political fights two weeks before congressional elections. Trump condemned the bombs on Wednesday before going on to blame the media for the anger seen in American society. He has also bristled at commentators who have highlighted his rhetoric when discussing the explosive devices, tweeting shortly after 3 a.m. Friday that CNN was “blaming me for the current spate of Bombs.”

The explosives prompted a sprawling, nationwide investigation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking in Washington on Friday, pledged that local, state and federal authorities were “working tirelessly to follow every lead” in the case.

Law-enforcement officials have described the devices as PVC pipes stuffed with what appeared to be fireworks powder and glass. Electrical wires leading out of the pipe led to an electric timer taped to the pipe. All of the packages were sent in manila envelopes with bubble-wrapped interior, bearing a half-dozen Forever stamps and return addresses bearing the misspelled name of Wasserman Schultz, a prominent political figure in South Florida.

The packages sent to public figures had many of the hallmarks of suspicious mail, including large block lettering and excessive postage aimed at making it harder to track, said Matthew Doherty, who formerly led the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center. And the fact that none detonated provides investigators with considerable evidence, he said.

“There’s a rich treasure trove of forensic information since they were found intact,” Doherty said. That means FBI investigators can “look for patterns such as the device, the technical expertise, the method of mailing, a whole host of great, rich forensic evidence that can be gathered.”

Officials on Thursday declined to say whether the devices were intended to detonate or to scare people, but they repeatedly urged the public to view them as if they could pose a threat.

“We are treating them as live devices,” NYPD Commissioner James P. O’Neill said at a news briefing, urging people not to touch packages they deem suspicious. “This is something that should be taken seriously.”

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