FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Thirteen years ago, mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc traveled the country leading a mixed-race troupe of male exotic dancers — he ran scams and had a temper, but a fellow dancer who is African-American said he never expressed racism or homophobia.
Years later, working as a pizza driver, Sayoc would often express hatred for minorities, Jews and gays, his manager said. He drove a van plastered with stickers supporting President Donald Trump, criticizing media outlets and showing rifle crosshairs over liberals like Hillary Clinton and filmmaker Michael Moore. But she kept him around, even though she is a lesbian, because he was honest, dependable and never got into fights.
Why Sayoc changed so radically over the years remains a mystery, but to those who know him, there seems little question that he did.
"We were friends, we were boys, we traveled in the same van, slept in the same room," said former dancer David Crosby, who is black. "When I think of the guy I knew and the guy I see now on MSNBC, CNN and at Trump rallies, I think, 'Did he really slip?'" He thinks Trump's sometimes bombastic criticism of liberals may have pushed Sayoc over the edge .
"He really wasn't a bad guy," a puzzled Crosby said.
But former pizza restaurant manager Debra Gureghian said that while Sayoc originally came across as respectful, articulate and polite, within days a dark side emerged and he told her he was disgusted by her sexuality.
"I was an abomination, I was God's misfit ... I was a mistake," Gureghian said of her former employee, who quit his job earlier this year. Sayoc thought she "should burn in hell with Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow... and President Obama and Hillary Clinton."
Sayoc, 56, was arrested Friday near Fort Lauderdale and is charged federally with mailing at least 13 mail bombs to prominent Democrats and other frequent targets of conservative ire, including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and the cable network CNN. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday.
That radicalism is a stark contrast to the mid-2000s, when Sayoc managed and performed with two male-dance revues — "Men of Steel" and "American Hunks." He never expressed political views back then, Crosby said.
"I don't know if he was a Democrat or Republican," said Crosby, who now runs a gym and is a comedian near Minneapolis.
Along with three or four other chiseled men, Crosby and Sayoc traveled the country by van, stripping to G-strings for screaming women in honkytonks and nightclubs. They would check into a motel, perform, bring women back to party, sleep a few hours and then get up early the next morning to drive several hours to the next gig.
"It's a hard life," Crosby said, quite seriously. The partying, bad food and lack of exercise takes a toll, he said.
Sayoc hosted, then danced last. Crosby said he and the other all-but-naked dancers would bring women up on stage, make them and their friends laugh and do some sexual innuendo — except Sayoc, who wasn't a good performer.
He said Sayoc would have women sit in a chair, get between their legs and drive his pelvis into theirs hard — "bang, bang."
"The chair is bouncing off the wall, their head is bouncing off the wall," Crosby said. Sometimes, he would bite the women's exposed skin hard enough to leave teeth marks. Crosby said women would complain to the other dancers that Sayoc was too rough, but no one ever called the police.
He said Sayoc had a "zero to 100" temper and would sometimes use his 6-foot, 250-pound (1.8-meter, 113-kilogram) frame to intimidate other men.
"If he wasn't happy about something, he would definitely let you know," Crosby said.
Still, he never saw Sayoc hit anyone and he treated his employees well — though he would sometimes scam the shows' financial backers.
For example, Crosby said Sayoc would sometimes drive separately in his own older van, though not the now infamous one he was arrested with. He would then take parts from the troupe's newer van, which was owned by an investor, and swap them with dying parts from his clunker, Crosby said. Sayoc would then ask the investor to pay for the troupe van's now-needed repairs.
Twelve years later, however, when Sayoc worked for Gureghian at New River Pizza in Fort Lauderdale, honesty and reliability were his job-saving attributes. He never stole and customers never complained, Gureghian said.
But until he quit earlier this year, he regularly subjected co-workers to fiery political rants. Gureghian called his views "pure hatred."
He detested liberals, blacks, Jews and especially gays, who he called slurs, Gureghian said.
Gureghian said Sayoc used his van for deliveries and one rainy night he offered her a ride home.
"The first thing I did was kind of look to make sure — God forbid — if something happened, can I open that door to get out and how do I tuck and roll?" she said.
Sayoc lived in the van and Gureghian said it was a mess. There were empty containers from fast-food restaurants, men's fitness supplements and alcoholic beverages. Dirty clothes were everywhere.
And, ominously, there were dolls with their heads cut off.
"He told me he was fixing them for his two nieces," Gureghian said.