Nation & World

Sole fingerprint on suspicious package evolved into arrest of man who sent pipebombs to Democratic leaders

Florida man apparently living in van faces felony charges

A white van seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs is towed Friday to FBI headquarters in Miramar, Fla. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)
A white van seized during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs is towed Friday to FBI headquarters in Miramar, Fla. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)
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PLANTATION, Fla. — The man suspected of mailing at least 14 potential pipe bombs to some of President Donald Trump’s leading critics was arrested Friday on federal charges during the closing days of one of the most toxic election campaigns in decades.

Cesar Sayoc, 56, a former male stripper revue promoter and professional wrestler once charged with threatening to bomb a utility for trying to shut off his lights, was taken into custody by federal agents outside an auto-parts store in Plantation, west of Fort Lauderdale, as helicopters flew overhead.

Authorities seized a white van that Sayoc appeared to have used as his dwelling, its windows plastered with pro-Trump stickers, the slogan “CNN SUCKS” and images of Democratic leaders with red crosshairs over their faces.

Records indicate at one point he lived with his parents in a condo in Aventura, a wealthy city north of Miami.

A single fingerprint and DNA evidence on packaging helped identify him. But his arrest did not necessarily end the threats, FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a news conference.

“There may be other packages in transit now and other packages on the way,” Wray said.

Sayoc’s arrest followed an intense four-day manhunt sparked by the discovery of bombs concealed in packages addressed to such leading Democratic figures as former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Trump defeated in the 2016 presidential race.

Some of the parcels also contained photographs of the intended recipients marked with a red X, according to a criminal complaint.

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The complaint accused Sayoc of sending 13 bombs to 11 individuals, starting with billionaire Democratic donor George Soros. A package was discovered Monday near his New York home.

A 14th package was found Friday at a post office outside San Francisco addressed to another contributor to the Democratic Party and liberal causes, hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer.

The devices were sent in manila envelopes lined with Bubble Wrap. They consisted of plastic 6-inch pipes packed with explosives and wired to clocks and batteries, the complaint said.

Wray said investigators had yet to determine if the bombs were “functional,” but the devices could be dangerous “if subjected to the right combination of heat or shock or friction.”

“These are not hoax devices,” he said.

All were sent through the U.S. Postal Service system and intercepted before reaching their intended targets. No one has been hurt.

But the bombs have heightened tensions during the closing days of a highly contentious campaign ahead of the Nov. 6 elections in which Democrats are battling to seize control of Congress.

According to CNN, Sayoc told investigators the bombs would have done no injury and that he would not have wanted anyone hurt.

Wray said fingerprints on one of two packages sent to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a Los Angeles Democrat, belonged to Sayoc. The complaint also cited a “possible DNA” link between samples taken from two of the bombs and a sample taken from Sayoc after a previous arrest.

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One law enforcement official said the fingerprint discovery was a major breakthrough. With that, authorities began zeroing in Thursday on Sayoc, gathering cellphone records to track his movements and conducting real-time surveillance of his location.

Sayoc was charged with five felony counts, including interstate transportation and illegal mailing of explosives, threatening a former president, making threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officers.

“We must never allow political violence to take root in America — cannot let it happen,” Trump said in announcing the arrest at the White House. “And I’m committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it and to stop it now.”

A native of New York’s Brooklyn borough and a registered Republican, Sayoc made his political leanings evident on social media. In Facebook and Twitter posts, he railed against Democrats and liberals, including an anti-Soros tweet two days before a device showed up at the financier’s home.

An FBI affidavit said some of the misspellings in the social media posts were consistent with misspellings found on the suspicious packages.

Public records showed numerous arrests over the years for domestic violence, theft and other charges, including the alleged bomb threat against a utility.

Sayoc was expected to be held at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami and make his first appearance before a judge Monday, according to former Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weinstein.

All those targeted by the packages have been outspoken critics of Trump and his administration, foils for the president and his right-wing supporters or both.

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Among intended recipients earlier in the week were former Vice President Joe Biden, former Attorney General Eric Holder, actor Robert De Niro and former CIA Director John Brennan.

Friday, packages surfaced for Democratic U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

The episode has sparked an outcry from Trump’s critics charging that his inflammatory rhetoric against perceived enemies has fostered a climate ripe for political violence.

Trump’s supporters, though, have accused Democrats of unfairly suggesting that the president was to blame.

After calling for unity, Trump lamented partisan attacks against him and pointed at the media.

“I get attacked all the time,” he said. “I can do the greatest thing for our country, and on the networks and on different things it will show bad.”

Reuters, the Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Times contributed.

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