By Barnini Chakraborty
Published October 26, 2018
A fingerprint on the envelope containing one of the mail bombs sent to prominent Democrats nationwide, as well as DNA on two other packages, allowed officials to close in on a suspect, 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc, who was arrested Friday morning.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a 2:30 p.m. press conference from Washington, D.C., that Sayoc, from Aventura, Florida, faces five federal charges and up to 48 years in prison. He confirmed the five charges are: interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and certain other persons, threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officers. Even though Sayoc was detained in Florida, he will be prosecuted in New York City.
The official charge sheet says as well as the fingerprints, reportedly found on the suspicious package sent to California Rep. Maxine Waters, "there is a possible DNA association between a sample collected from a piece of the IED inside two of the envelopes containing IEDs and a sample previously collected from Sayoc."
FBI Director Christopher Wray said even though Sayoc was arrested, “there may be other packages in transit now.”
Sessions cautioned that Sayoc had only been charged, not convicted, but added: "Let this be a lesson to anyone regardless of their political beliefs that we will bring the full force of law against anyone who attempts to use threats, intimidation and outright violence to further an agenda. We will find you, we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."
Sayoc, a former New Yorker who now lives in Aventura, Florida, was arrested in Florida. Several of the packages went through a U.S. postal facility in Opa-locka, which is less than 10 miles from Aventura. He was arrested at an auto parts store in Plantation.
Court records show Sayoc, an amateur bodybuilder with social media accounts that praise Trump, has a history of arrests for theft, illegal steroids possession and a 2002 charge of making a bomb threat. His 2002 arrest affidavit states that he threatened Florida Power & Light Co., claiming he would blow up their headquarters and "it would be worse than September 11th."
Sayoc's white van, which was plastered with stickers of Trump, the presidential seal and other political signage, including pictures of the likes of Hillary Clinton with crosshairs over them, was seized by authorities and taken to a secure facility. His social media accounts are also full of him attending MAGA (Make America Great Again) rallies.
President Trump applauded the FBI during remarks Friday afternoon, also decrying the use of violence in the political realm. Trump called the packages and the events of the week "despicable".
"We must never allow political violence to take root in America. We cannot let it happen. And I am committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it. And to stop it now."
President Trump made the remarks Friday at the 2018 Young Black Leadership Summit in the White House just hours after federal authorities arrested Sayoc.
Federal authorities had been focusing on Florida as the location where the majority of packages originated.
“Some of the packages went through the mail,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen earlier told Fox News. “They originated, some of them, from Florida. I am confident that this person or people will be brought to justice.”
The Miami-Dade County Police Department confirmed Thursday it was helping federal agents who were at the facility in Opa-locka as part of the ongoing investigation.
The USPS operates an innovative imaging system that photographs each piece of mail processed throughout the country. Investigators were likely relying on that system to pinpoint where some of the packages were mailed.
The FBI said the packages each consisted of a manila envelope with a bubble-wrap interior containing potentially destructive devices. The packages were addressed with a computer-printed address label and six stamps.
A government source told Fox News the FBI was analyzing the stamps in Quantico. The source also said the investigation had progressed “significantly” and that the FBI was reaching out to retailers to zero in on where the elements of the bombs were made and where they were sold.
The envelopes and packaging materials likely contained a treasure trove of DNA information. Tiny bits of genetic material – traces of sweat, skin cells, saliva, hair or fingerprints – are typically used as a roadmap to the suspect’s door, investigators and bomb experts say.
The Washington, D.C., field office and the FBI headquarters had 24 teams in place and on the hunt for the culprit.
Forensic investigators in Quantico, Va., have been sifting through the packages addressed to former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, liberal billionaire George Soros, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director John Brennan and Waters. Other devices discovered Thursday were sent to Joe Biden and the actor Robert De Niro.
The devices are thought to have been fashioned from crude, bomb-making designs widely available on the Internet. Authorities haven’t said whether the devices were built to explode and kill or simply sow fear. A 13th device was discovered Friday in Sacramento, California, addressed to Democratic Senator Kamala Harris. Law enforcement officials told Fox News that a 14th suspicious package has been intercepted in Burlingame, California, addressed to Tom Steyer. Steyer is a California billionaire who has been calling for the impeachment of President Trump. According to the charge sheet, some of the mailings included photographs of the targets marked with a red "X".
Ryan Morris, founder of Tripwire Operation Group, a company that provides explosives training to law enforcement and military officials, called the devices “Mickey Mouse” bombs that were meant to be found. He told Fox News he believes the primary motive is fear. The packages were sent about two weeks ahead of the midterm elections.
Regardless, investigators were treating the devices as “live” explosives New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said. Larry Johnson, a former head of criminal investigations for the U.S. Secret Service who also served as a special agent in charge of the presidential protective detail, agreed that bomb makers usually leave evidence – and their signature- behind.
“If there is a human involved, there is a high probability you’re going to get somewhere investigatively,” he told The Associated Press. “There will be no stone left unturned.”
Johnson believes it’s “highly likely” the person who built the bombs will have been previously flagged by law enforcement. The Secret Service maintains a wide database of groups and individuals who have made threats in the past against presidents or other top political leaders and activists via email, letters or on social media.
James Fitzgerald, a retired FBI profiler and forensic linguist who, in 1996, helped catch "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski -- who killed 3 people and injured 23 in bombings between 1978 and 1995 -- told Fox News on Wednesday that the letter sent to John Brennan, the former director of the CIA and a staunch Trump critic, reminded him of something the Unabomber would send because of the number of stamps used on the package.
“The linguist in me noticed that Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the last name is spelled missing a ‘c’ and John Brennan’s name is spelled missing an ‘n’ and that kind of surprised me and I have a feeling that was done on purpose to make this look like somebody who doesn’t really know who these people are and that it wasn’t an honest mistake. If he had this much anger and vitriol against these people, you would think he would know how to spell their names.