(NEW YORK) — A suspect was taken into arrested in Florida for an apparent mass mail bombing spree that targeted top Democrats and other prominent figures across the country, officials said.
Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Florida, allegedly carried out the widespread plot and triggered a nationwide manhunt, multiple law enforcement sources told ABC News.
The charges against him include interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and certain other persons, threatening interstate communications, and assaulting current and former federal officers, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said at a news conference Friday afternoon.
Sayoc faces up to 48 years in prison if convicted, a Justice Department spokeswoman told ABC News. He made no formal statement upon his arrest and gave no information as to how many more packages may be out there, law enforcement officials briefed on the case told ABC News.
Investigators were able to compare a fingerprint from one of the envelopes sent to Rep. Maxine Waters and compared it to a sample collected from one of Sayoc’s previous arrests in Florida, FBI Director Christopher Wray said at the briefing. Sayoc’s DNA was also found on some of the wires used in the IEDs, according to law enforcement officials.
“We do believe that we caught the right guy,” Wray said.
Sayoc was tracked down using a mobile phone. Authorities have recovered a cell phone, a laptop computer and other electronic devices from him, sources said.
Sayoc appeared unperturbed when he was apprehended in the parking lot of an Auto Zone mechanic shop in Plantation, Florida, on Friday morning and led into a police vehicle, witness Paul Smith told ABC Miami affiliate WPLG.
“It almost seemed like he knew he was going to get caught soon and that he was expecting it,” Smith said. “…He was in handcuffs, and he was calmly escorted to the vehicle. I saw him get in, no problem. And he just had that look of, ‘Okay. It’s over.'”
Sayoc’s residence is listed as his mother’s home in Aventura, but he was, for a time, living in the white van covered in stickers of President Donald Trump, which is now being investigated.
A relative of his told ABC News that the family is in shock.
“We’re in shock — just shock,” the relative said. “It’s all very, very hard to process. It’s just a crazy thing.”
Daniel Lurvey, Sayoc’s former attorney who represented him in his grand theft and petty theft charges in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, also expressed surprise that he was arrested for the string of suspicious packages, describing him as “a gentleman” with “no political agenda.”
“He’s as regular, non-political as can be,” Lurvey told ABC News, adding also that he is “somewhat gregarious and friendly.”
Another one of Sayoc’s former attorneys, Miami-based lawyer Ronald Lowy, told ABC News that Sayoc’s mother is a committed democrat and that his alleged behavior is inconsistent with her political views.
Speaking from the White House Friday afternoon, Trump said the suspect will be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law.”
“These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country,” the president said. “We must never allow political violence to take root in America.”
But, from a rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, Friday evening, Trump appeared once again to cast blame on the media for the bomb scare.
“The media has a major role to play, whether they want to or not,” Trump said.
Sayoc is expected to be prosecuted in federal court in New York City, a senior law enforcement official told ABC News. He will first appear in the Southern District of Florida, where he was arrested, on Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York told ABC News.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Jeff Berman described Sayoc’s alleged as “insidious conduct.”
Court documents obtained by ABC News show that Sayoc has a long history of criminal charges, including at least eight arrests in Florida alone, ranging from giving false information to get a refund to grand theft auto.
In 2002, Sayoc was arrested for threatening to discharge a destructive device after he allegedly called Florida Power & Light and “threatened to blow up” the power utility company, allegedly saying “it would be worse than September 11,” the arrest record states. He pleaded guilty and was ultimately sentenced to probation, according to court documents.
Court documents also show that, in 2014, Sayoc worked as a “road manager for a variety of traveling male revue shows.”
So far, authorities have recovered 14 suspicious packages in the widening investigation, with the latest targets on Friday being Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey as well as former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, sources said.
The package addressed to Booker was found Friday morning at or near Opa-locka in South Florida.
The parcel addressed to Clapper was then discovered at a United States Postal Service office in New York City, sources said. The New York City Police Department wrote on Twitter that the package was “safely removed” from the post office in midtown Manhattan.
“My wife and I are away from home right now. And our neighbors have been retrieving our mail. Been very concerned about them. So in one sense, it’s kind of a relief, but it’s not a surprise,” Clapper said on CNN Friday morning. “This is definitely domestic terrorism. No question about it in my mind.”
Clapper added that the targets of the suspected bomb threats — who have all been critical of Trump — won’t be deterred.
“This is not going to silence the administration’s critics,” he said on CNN.
The package to Harris was recovered Friday from a post office in Sacramento, California, multiple sources told ABC News. The package was identified by a trained postal employee, Harris said in a statement.
“At this moment, it is incumbent upon leaders across the political spectrum to take seriously the power they hold,” Harris said. “It is the responsibility of our leaders to use their role as public figures to elevate our discourse and bring people together.”
Steyer, a top donor to Democrats, confirmed in a statement that a suspicious package addressed to him was intercepted Friday at a postal facility in Burlingame, California, some 17 miles north of San Francisco.
“We are 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 obtained by ABC News. “Whether it’s voter suppression, voter intimidation, attacks on our free press, gerrymandering, or attempted violence — the trust and norms that are the actual basis for our civil society and political system are being eroded. It’s time for the Republican Party to denounce any attacks on the rights and dignity of any American and begin to work on building the broadest and most comprehensive democracy possible for each and every American.”
Feds focus on South Florida as suspected origin of some of the packages
Harris, Booker and Clapper are among the prominent public figures who have been targeted, along with former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Bill Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said an army of agents is “fully engaged” in the probe.
“This is a nationwide investigation involving multiple jurisdictions coast to coast,” Sweeney told reporters at a news conference Thursday.
Everyone who has been sent the suspicious packages so far is a prominent critic of Trump, and many of them have been publicly disparaged by the president either at campaign rallies or on Twitter.
None of the devices detonated, and no one was injured handling the packages, officials said.
Many of the packages have the return address for Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida. Authorities do not believe the congresswoman, who is the former head of the Democratic National Committee, was involved in sending any of the parcels.
The various bubble-wrapped-lined manila envelopes with computer-printed labels and Forever stamps have been sent to the FBI’s lab in Quantico, Virginia, for further analysis.
All of the devices found inside the parcels went through the U.S. Postal Service. They were all intercepted before they reached their intended targets, sources told ABC News on Thursday.
Investigators have not determined a motive for the suspected mail bombs.
A search for where the bomb components were purchased
The FBI, Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were fanning out across the country to determine where components of the devices were purchased.
X-ray photographs of the devices exclusively obtained by ABC News illustrate the critical leads investigators are now pursuing: Each device contained a digital clock, explosive powder, a battery power source and wiring to channel a spark for detonation, sources told ABC News. The devices also included glass as potential shrapnel. None of the devices exploded.
“The FBI advises the public to remain vigilant and not touch, move or handle any suspicious or unknown packages,” the FBI said in a statement Wednesday evening. “We ask anyone who may have information to contact the FBI.”
It’s not entirely clear whether all of the incidents are linked, but authorities said they fear other suspected bombs may have been sent out. Investigators suspect the apparent mail-bomb campaign is meant to terrorize and harm.
It began with a pipe bomb to George Soros
The series of mailed explosives began Monday with the discovery of a pipe bomb in the home mailbox of billionaire philanthropist George Soros in Westchester County, New York. Soros is a Democratic supporter often criticized by right-wing groups.
The following day, a package addressed to Hillary Clinton containing an explosive device was intercepted by the Secret Service at a screening facility before it reached her home in the New York City suburb of Chappaqua, also in Westchester County. Former President Bill Clinton was home at the time the package was found.
Hillary Clinton, speaking at a campaign event Wednesday in Florida, said, “We are fine, thanks to the men and women of the Secret Service who intercepted the package addressed to us long before it reached our home.”
“But it is a troubling time, isn’t it?” she added. “And it’s a time of deep divisions and we have to do everything we can to bring our country together.”
A package addressed to Obama containing an explosive device was intercepted by the Secret Service early Wednesday morning before it reached his residence in Washington, D.C.
Later that morning, a package containing an explosive and suspicious powder was found in the mail room of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan, which is home to CNN’s New York headquarters. It was addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, though he is an NBC News contributor and has no public ties to CNN.
The package addressed to Brennan traveled through the U.S. mail system, two officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News. It arrived at the Radio City post office in midtown Manhattan where it was picked up per normal procedure by a private courier who delivers the mail to the CNN office and other locations, the officials said.
The courier then hand-delivered all of CNN’s mail for that day, including the manila envelope with U.S. Postal Service first-class mail “forever” stamps, which feature the American flag. That’s how the package wound up in CNN’s screening and sorting mail room, the officials said.
There didn’t appear to be any postal markings above of the stamps, which investigators are looking into.
The shops and restaurants at the Time Warner Center were briefly evacuated Thursday night as police investigated a pair of unattended packages inside the mall, which was determined to be a false alarm, according to the New York City Police Department.
A suspected mail-bomb was sent to former Attorney General Eric Holder with a return address for Wasserman Schultz. The package did not reach its intended destination and so it was sent to the congresswoman’s address on Wednesday. Investigators do not believe Wasserman Schultz was involved in sending any of the parcels.
Another package containing a device addressed to Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California was found in Los Angeles on Wednesday night. A prior one addressed to Waters was intercepted earlier Wednesday by Capitol Police in Washington, D.C.
Waters, one of Trump’s most outspoken critics, said the suspicious packages will not stop her from protesting the current administration
“We have to keep to doing what we’re doing in order to make this country right. That’s what I intend to do, and as the young people say, ‘I ain’t scared,'” Waters told Blavity in a video interview Thursday. “We must not be intimidated to the point that we stop advocating and protesting for justice.”
A package addressed to Robert De Niro was recovered from the actor’s Tribeca Productions film and television company in New York City early Thursday morning. A retired New York City Police Department anti-terrorism detective who screens the mail for De Niro saw a photo of another suspicious package on the news and realized it resembled one sent to the actor’s production office on Tuesday, the police commissioner said.
The parcel, which contained a device similar to the others recovered this week, was removed by police in a bomb-containment vehicle.
“I thank God 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 obtained by ABC News Friday. “There’s something more powerful than bombs, and that’s your vote. People MUST vote!”
The suspicious packages addressed to Booker, Clapper, Harris and Steyer bring the total count to 14 as of Friday afternoon.
Philip Bartlett, head of the New York office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, said postal police have been aggressively searching the mail system and have not found any new devices since early Thursday morning.
“In terms of tracking, we have over 600,000 postal employees out there right now. We have the eyes and ears looking for these packages,” Bartlett told reporters. “I will say in the postal network, we have found nothing in the last eight hours. So what we have so far is what we have, 10 parcels.”
Later Thursday morning, two packages addressed to Biden were intercepted at different postal facilities in Delaware and removed by authorities.
Former President Jimmy Carter has been warned to be on alert for suspicious packages being sent to him, his spokeswoman told ABC News.
Suspected mail bombs appear to be political in nature
Bryan Paarmann, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and Joint Terrorism Task Force in New York City, said the mailings appear to be political in nature.
“The utilization of violence in order to further one’s own political agenda is unacceptable to us,” Paarmann told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. “We will turn over every rock, we will turn every corner and we will talk to everybody that we have to in order to mitigate this threat.”
Some critics of Trump said he has demonized all of those who have been sent the suspicious parcels, and claim his rhetoric may have inspired the mystery bomb maker or makers.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders bristled at such a suggestion. “The president is certainly not responsible for sending suspicious packages to someone, no more than Bernie Sanders was responsible for a supporter of his shooting up a Republican baseball field practice last year,” she said, referring to a shooting in June that seriously wounded House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana.
“The idea that this is at the hands of the president is absolutely ridiculous,” the press secretary said.
Trump, meanwhile, has said his administration is “extremely angry” about the suspected mail bombs, but he is blaming the media.
“A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning. “It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”
Brennan, the former CIA director whose name was on a suspected mail bomb sent to CNN, responded to Trump’s media criticism, telling the president to “stop blaming others” and “look in the mirror.”
“Your inflammatory rhetoric, insults, lies, & encouragement of physical violence are disgraceful. Clean up your act….try to act Presidential. The American people deserve much better. BTW, your critics will not be intimidated into silence,” Brennan wrote on Twitter.
Democratic leaders noted that most of the people targeted had been ridiculed by Trump.
“We listened with great interest to the president’s remarks this afternoon,” the Democratic House and Senate leaders, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, said in a joint statement Wednesday. “However, President Trump’s words ring hollow until he reverses his statements that condone acts of violence.”
“Time and time again, the president has condoned physical violence and divided Americans with his words and his actions: expressing support for the Congressman who body-slammed a reporter, the neo-Nazis who killed a young woman in Charlottesville, his supporters at rallies who get violent with protesters, dictators around the world who murder their own citizens, and referring to the free press as the enemy of the people,” the Democratic leaders wrote.
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