PLANTATION, Fla. – A South Florida man is charged with five federal crimes in connection with the mailing of pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and critics of President Donald Trump.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Friday that Cesar Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, is 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.
Sessions said he doesn't know why bombs were sent to prominent Democrats but that Sayoc "appears to be a partisan."
Sayoc, who was arrested earlier in the day in South Florida, faces up to 48 years in prison if convicted.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said Sayoc mailed 13 explosive devices to former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Florida, Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, philanthropist George Soros and actor Robert De Niro.
Wray said each of the 13 IEDs consisted of about 6 inches of PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery, wiring and energetic material. Some of the mailings included photographs of the targeted recipients marked with a red "X."
Sayoc's fingerprint was found on one of the envelopes addressed to Waters, and a DNA sample collected from a piece of the IED inside two of the envelopes matched Sayoc.
Several law enforcement officials from various agencies, including the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, gathered in the parking lot of an Auto Zone in Plantation earlier in the day, where investigators were focused on a white van with pro-Trump political stickers covering the windows.
A man who operates a property management office near the Auto Zone store said Sayoc didn't resist when armed police officers swarmed and arrested him.
Thomas Fiori is a former federal law enforcement officer. He said he saw an undercover police officer in a nearby SUV looking at the store with binoculars Friday.
Fiori said within minutes he heard a small explosion, probably a device police use to distract people. He said 50 officers swarmed the van with their firearms drawn.
Fiori said Sayoc did not resist and "had that look of, 'I'm done, I surrender."'
Authorities could be seen covering the van, believed to belong to Sayoc, with a blue tarp. The van was then placed the back of a flatbed truck and driven to the FBI's South Florida headquarters in Miramar.
Sayoc was escorted out of the FBI's regional headquarters around 3:30 p.m. by federal agents.
He was seen in handcuffs walking out of the sally port door, escorted by a number of FBI agents. Sayoc was wearing a sleeveless shirt and he had a serious expression on his face.
A short time later, two black Suburbans -- one carrying Sayoc and the other escorting with lights and sirens -- were seen entering the sally port at the federal detention center in downtown Miami, where Sayoc will be held until he sees a federal magistrate on Monday.
He is expected to then be transferred to New York to face the five felony charges against him.
Authorities said the packages originated from a mail facility in Opa-locka, about 20 miles south of Plantation, and had return addresses listed for U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, D-Florida. She is a former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
This was minutes before the arrest occurred ... Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz describing how her staff recognized the mail bomb pkg as “suspicious”, emotional at the thought of the danger ...@WPLGLocal10 ⏩ pic.twitter.com/1HRkTuyGA3— Glenna Milberg (@GlennaWPLG) October 26, 2018
Each envelope misspelled Florida as "Florids" in the return addresses.
"I'm extremely grateful to the brave women and men in law enforcement who swiftly apprehended this suspect and are working tirelessly to keep us safe," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Friday. "I will remain in direct contact with law enforcement as this ongoing investigation continues. The suspect who was apprehended in no way represents the character of our community or what we stand for. I'm confident that this attack on our democracy will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We will never let those who use violence intimidate us or keep us from doing our jobs. Love, compassion, and kindness will always win out over hate."
Trump told supporters Friday that Sayoc will be prosecuted "to the fullest extent of the law."
"We must never allow political violence take root in America," Trump said in his first remarks since Sayoc was apprehended.
Trump declared that "these terrorizing acts are despicable" and said Americans "must unify."
Sayoc's sticker-laden van remains impounded at the FBI headquarters in Miramar.
The new state-of-the-art, 380,000-square-foot, $200 million facility has all the resources it needs to comb over the van in the coming days. In fact, the compound has its own auto shop.
Investigators will be looking for forensic evidence like explosive residue, remnants of bomb-making materials and other evidence that can further link Sayoc to the crimes.