An undated police mugshot of Cesar Sayoc, who was charged Friday with sending explosive devices to critics of President Trump.

Hours before arrest, pipe bomb suspect was spinning records

UPDATE Sunday Oct 28th

By ERIC TUCKER, MICHAEL BALSAMO and COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the hours before his arrest, as federal authorities zeroed in and secretly accumulated evidence, Cesar Sayoc was in his element: spinning classic and Top 40 hits in a nightclub where he’d found work as a DJ.

As he entertained patrons from a dimly lit booth overlooking a stage at the Ultra Gentlemen’s Club, where Halloween decorations hung in anticipation of a costume party, he could not have known that investigators that very evening were capitalizing on his own mistakes to build a case against him.

He almost certainly had no idea that lab technicians had linked DNA on two pipe bomb packages he was accused of sending to prominent Democrats to a sample previously collected by Florida state authorities. Or that a fingerprint match had turned up on a separate mailing the authorities say he sent.

And he was probably unaware that investigators scouring his social media accounts had found the same spelling mistakes on his online posts — “Hilary” Clinton, Debbie Wasserman “Shultz” — as on the mailings he’d soon be charged with sending.

In the end, prosecutors who charged Sayoc with five federal crimes Friday say the fervent supporter of President Donald Trump unwittingly left behind a wealth of clues, affording them a critical break in a coast-to-coast investigation into pipe bomb mailings that spread fear of election-season violence. The bubble-wrapped manila envelopes, addressed to Democrats such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and intercepted from Delaware to California, held vital forensic evidence that investigators say they leveraged to arrest Sayoc four days after the investigation started.

“Criminals make mistakes so the more opportunities that law enforcement has to detect them, the greater chance they’re going to be able to act on that, and that appears to be what happened here,” said former Justice Department prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty, who prosecuted the Boston Marathon bombing case.

But It wasn’t always clear that such a break would come, at least not on Monday when the first package arrived: a pipe bomb delivered via mail to an estate in Bedford, New York, belonging to billionaire liberal activist George Soros. That same day, Sayoc, still under the radar of law enforcement, retweeted a post saying, “The world is waking up to the horrors of George Soros.”

Additional packages followed, delivered the next day for Clinton and Obama and after that to the cable network CNN, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic targets of conservative ire.

Each additional delivery created more unease. But together they also provided more leads for the FBI, which mined each pipe bomb for clues at a laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

As the packages rolled in, technicians hit a breakthrough: a fingerprint and DNA left on a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat and one of the intended pipe bomb recipients, and DNA on a piece of pipe bomb intended for Obama. The FBI said it had identified no other possible matches on the evidence it had examined.

Besides that, the FBI said, his social media posts that traffic in online conspiracy theories, parody accounts and name-calling include some of the same misspellings as were noticed on the 13 packages he was charged with sending.

The clues, authorities say, led them to a 56-year-old man with a long criminal history who’d previously filed for bankruptcy and appeared to be living in his van, showering on the beach or at a local fitness center.

As the FBI worked around the clock, and as Americans were busy debating the hard-edged political climate and whether Trump had fanned the flames with his rhetoric, it was business as usual for Sayoc as he took to Twitter to denigrate targets like Soros. That was not uncommon for the amateur body builder and former stripper whose social media accounts are peppered with memes supporting Trump and posts vilifying Democrats.

On Thursday from noon to 9 p.m. as law enforcement grew ever closer, descending on a postal sorting facility in Opa-locka, Florida, Sayoc was working as a disc jockey at a West Palm Beach nightclub where he’d found work in the last two months. There, he spun his music from inside a small dimly lit booth overlooking a stage with performers dancing below. Autographed photos of scantily clad and nude adult entertainers were plastered across the walls like wallpaper.

“I didn’t know this guy was mad crazy like this,” said Stacy Saccal, the club’s manager. “Never once did he speak politics. This is a bar. We don’t talk politics or religion in a bar, you know?”

But Scott Meigs, another DJ at the club, had a different experience.

He said Sayoc had been talking about politics to everybody at the club for the last two weeks, preaching the need to elect Republicans during the November elections. “I just figured he was passionate about the upcoming elections.”

The next morning, he was taken into custody 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 with windows plastered with stickers supporting Trump and criticizing media outlets including CNN.

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.

___

Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Ken Thomas, Jill Colvin, Michael Biesecker, Stephen Braun and Chad Day in Washington; Ellis Rua, Terry Spencer, Kelli Kennedy and Curt Anderson in Florida; Jim Mustian, Deepti Hajela, Tom Hays and Michael R. Sisak in New York; and Raphael Satter in Paris contributed to this report.

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on pipe bombs sent to prominent critics of President Donald Trump (all times local):

12:44 p.m.

Previous mug shot of Cesar Sayoc, Jr

President Donald Trump is confirming that a suspect in the mail bomb scare is in custody and says he will be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”

Trump, in his first remarks since Cesar Sayoc, 56, was apprehended in Florida, declared that “we must never allow political violence take root in America.”

More than 10 mail bombs have been sent in recent days to political opponents of the president.

Trump declared that “these terrorizing acts are despicable” and said Americans “must unify.”

But his remarks came just hours after Trump tweeted a complaint that the media’s focus on bombs was distracting from Republican efforts in the upcoming midterm elections.

He also put the word “bomb” in quotes, a seeming nod to those who believed the scare was a hoax.

__

12:30 p.m.

The name of the man detained in connection with the pipe bomb scare is Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Florida, according to law enforcement officials.

Four officials familiar with the investigation identified the man to The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter on the record.

It was not clear whether Sayoc had been formally charged in the rash of devices addressed in recent days to Democratic figures including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

11:10 a.m.

The Justice Department says a person has been taken into custody in connection with a series of package bombs sent to prominent Democrats.

Spokeswoman Sarah Flores says a news conference is scheduled for later Friday. The person’s name was not immediately released.

Officials have located 12 devices addressed in recent days to Democratic figures including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton.

The FBI said Friday that a package addressed to Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, was intercepted in Florida. Another was discovered at a Manhattan postal facility and was addressed to former national intelligence director James Clapper at CNN’s address.

The targets have all been high-profile critics of President Donald Trump.

___

11 a.m.

President Donald Trump is arguing that a mail bomb scare targeting Democratic politicians and CNN is distracting from his midterm election efforts, dismissing it as “this ‘Bomb’ stuff.”

Trump tweets Friday morning: “Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this ‘Bomb’ stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows – news not talking politics. Very unfortunate, what is going on. Republicans, go out and vote!”

The president’s comments came as two more suspicious packages were discovered Friday. They were addressed to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper.

That brings the total number of devices to 12 in recent days. The targets have all been high-profile critics of the president.

Trump initially called for unity, but quickly turned to blaming the press for the divisive political climate.

___

10:10 a.m.

A law enforcement official has confirmed to The Associated Press that the suspicious package addressed to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker was found during an overnight search of the Opa-locka, Florida, mail facility that lasted until 4 a.m. Friday.

The official said the package was similar to the others sent to targets of right-wing anger, with the return address listed as the Sunrise, Florida, office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The official did not know if the package was outgoing or a return-to-sender mailing.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak to reporters on the ongoing investigation.

— By Curt Anderson in Miami

___

9:50 a.m.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says 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.”

Two officials told the AP that a package was discovered at a postal facility in Midtown Manhattan. One official said it was addressed to Clapper. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Clapper described the situation as “serious,” but said it is “not going to silence the administration’s critics.”

Clapper stressed that he did not want to suggest any direct link between Trump’s past rhetoric and the packages. But he said Trump should bear responsibility for the “coarseness and uncivility of the dialogue in this country.”

— By Michael R. Sisak in New York and Michael Balsamo in Washington

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