WASHINGTON — Cesar Sayoc, the suspect apprehended on Friday in connection with a string of attempted mail bombings, faces at least five federal crimes, including threats against former presidents, said attorney general Jeff Sessions. The charges carry up to 58 years in prison.
Authorities were led to Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Fla., after the discovery of fingerprint evidence on a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.). He was arrested outside an AutoZone in Plantation, Fla., on Friday, near his white van covered with stickers of images of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and one that read, “CNN Sucks.”
At a press conference at the Justice Department, FBI director Christopher Wray said 13 packages have been recovered, but there may be more that have yet to be found.
In addition to Waters, packages were sent to former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, former attorney general Eric Holder, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-Calif.), billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and actor Robert De Niro. Packages were also found that were addressed to former CIA director John Brennan and former director of national intelligence James Clapper, and sent in care of CNN. Clapper is a CNN contributor, and Brennan is an analyst for MSNBC.
The packages “consisted of approximately six inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery, wiring, and energetic material,” according to the complaint. Some of the mailings included photos of the intended recipients marked with a red “X.” Each package listed Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) as the return address, but with her name misspelled and Florida listed as “Florids.”
“These are not hoax devices,” Wray said.
In addition to the fingerprint that was found, investigators collected a DNA sample from a piece of the explosive device in two of the packages and found a possible association to a sample collected from Sayoc.
Wray said the nationwide, CSI-like search for the suspect was “something to behold,” as “we see this work on TV and in Hollywood.” Wray and Sessions declined to say what Sayoc’s motives were.
Asked why so many of the mail bombs targeted Democrats, Sessions said, “I don’t know, other than what you might normally expect. He appears to be a partisan, but that would be determined by the facts as the case goes forward.”
As the suspect was ID’d, media outlets quickly went through his social media profiles, finding pictures of him at at least one Trump rally and a Twitter feed, under the handle @hardrock2016, heavy in angry messages about some of Trump’s critics. They also included threats against other Hollywood figures like Jim Carrey and Ron Howard.
Sayoc is being charged with interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and certain other persons, threatening interstate communications, and assaulting federal officers.
His social media activity also gave authorities further clues. According to the complaint, he tweeted attacks on Obama and Soros on Wednesday. That was after authorities recovered the package outside of Soros’ home. His posts also included “various misspellings consistent with the packages,” including referring to Hillary Clinton as “Hilary.”
At least five of the packages were routed to the postal service’s mail processing center in Opa-locka, Fla., between Oct. 18 and Oct. 20. That is the facility that services the area where Sayoc lives.
The suspect has a criminal history.
According to Florida court records, he was charged of making a bomb threat in Miami-Dade County in 2002, and sentenced to one year probation. He also had charges for theft and drug possession for sale. There is also a domestic violence case in his record, but it was dismissed. It was filed in 1994 by his grandmother, Viola Altieri.
Records showed that he filed for bankruptcy in June 2012, and said he lived with his mother and had no furniture, according to court records.
In addition to the 13 packages intercepted so far, authorities were investigating another sent to Tom Steyer, the billionaire philanthropist leading a campaign to impeach Trump.
“We’re seeing a systematic attack on our democracy and our rule of law that extends much further than just one isolated terrorist in Florida,” Steyer said in a statement.
Earlier on Friday, a postal employee in a Sacramento mail facility discovered the package intended for Harris’ Sacramento office.
“At this moment, it is incumbent upon leaders across the political spectrum to take seriously the power they hold,” Harris said in a statement. “It is the responsibility of our leaders to use their role as public figures to elevate our discourse and bring people together.”