South Florida

Feds widen search for others who may have helped the South Florida mail-bomb suspect

Fingerprint and DNA led to the arrest of serial bomb suspect

FBI Director Christopher Wray said that a fingerprint found on one of the bombs sent to Rep. Maxine Waters and DNA evidence led the arrest of bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc.
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FBI Director Christopher Wray said that a fingerprint found on one of the bombs sent to Rep. Maxine Waters and DNA evidence led the arrest of bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc.

The quick arrest of a homeless man living in his van on charges of sending more than a dozen mail bombs to notable Democrats around the country may have signaled the climax of a massive federal investigation during the past week — but it’s far from over.

Federal agents are still searching for other possible suspects in South Florida who may have helped Cesar Sayoc, the former stripper and self-described entertainment promoter who was arrested at an auto parts store in Plantation Friday.

Friday night, FBI agents questioned a person at a Broward County residence with a potential connection to Sayoc, but nothing came of the interview, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the probe.

Investigators are also analyzing Sayoc’s impounded van in which he lived and allegedly built the pipe bombs because it contains a trove of valuable evidence, from explosive-device materials to credit-card receipts. They say the vehicle, covered with attacks on critics of President Donald Trump, directly links the 56-year-old Aventura man to the crime of mailing explosive devices from South Florida to the Democratic targets. Among them: former President Barack Obama, former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, actor Robert DeNiro and billionaire financier and political megadonor George Soros.

According to sources, Sayoc told FBI agents and other authorities during a brief interview at the bureau’s South Florida field office in Miramar that he never meant to hurt any of the intended targets — though the FBI’s director later said the pipe bombs were not “hoax devices.” Sayoc eventually clammed up, invoking his Miranda rights and asking to speak with a lawyer.

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Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, Plantation police, and the United States Postal Inspectors, gather at the AutoZone in Plantation, 801 S. State Road 7, after the arrest of Cesar Sayoc in the string of suspected explosive packages sent to prominent Democrats this week. The FBI loaded the suspect’s white van onto a flatbed truck and towed it away. Joshua Prezant

Despite allegedly committing practically the entire mail-bombing campaign from South Florida, Sayoc will be whisked away to New York after appearing in federal court in Miami for a removal hearing on Monday. He will be prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, based on evidence that at least five of the 14 packages were sent to that area, including CNN’s offices in Manhattan.

Many criminal and legal experts in South Florida called the New York U.S. Attorney Office’s takeover of the case a classic “power grab” of a national case that really belongs in South Florida. One former federal prosecutor said Miami’s new U.S. attorney, Ariana Fajardo Orshan, got a “dose of the SDNY.”

During a Friday news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., Fajardo was conspicuously absent from the stage of senior officials, which included Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray and the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman.

Wray credited the “phenomenal work” of federal agents and FBI lab experts along with state and local police in New York, the Washington, D.C., area, Delaware, Florida and California, where authorities say the bomb-filled manila envelopes were sent by Sayoc since mid-October. All of the packages, which had the return address of the congressional office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were routed through a U.S. Postal Service mail sorting facility in Opa-locka.

A trail of telltale clues helped investigators quickly focus the nationwide manhunt on Sayoc. Among the connections: a latent fingerprint on an envelope sent to California Rep. Maxine Waters along with DNA residue on two devices sent to Waters and former President Obama. They matched with DNA records kept by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that were collected from Sayoc in previous state criminal cases.

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Police gathered outside of the Aventura condo at 18151 NE 31st Ct. where 56-year-old mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc was once reported to live. More recently he lived out of his vehicle, which was also allegedly his bomb-making factory. Emily Michot emichot@miamiherald.com

Wray thanked FDLE for “their very quick work” in helping make the DNA connection before Sayoc’s arrest on Friday morning. “We do believe that we’ve caught the right person,” he said. “Once I knew they [the FBI] had a print, I was pretty confident we’d be able to find the right person.”

Agents also scrutinized Sayoc’s voluminous social media posts, his cellphone records and his movements throughout South Florida to link him to the threats against Democratic targets. Sources told the Miami Herald that those database searches did not reveal evidence that Sayoc was influenced by any terrorist organizations, including ISIS. The notorious Middle Eastern terrorist group’s propaganda has been posted on social media of several convicted felons who attempted to carry out past bombings in South Florida.

Wray would not say if there might be other potential suspects associated with the bomb-filled packages, citing the ongoing investigation. But the FBI director warned there could still be other suspicious envelopes en route to political targets.

“Today’s arrest does not mean we’re out of the woods,” he said Friday. “There may be other packages in transit now — other packages on the way.”

Sayoc, who is being held at the federal detention center in downtown Miami, was arrested on a criminal complaint on charges of interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against a former president and other high-ranking former government officials, threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officers. The five charges carry a potential 58 years in total prison time if Sayoc is convicted, Attorney General Sessions said.

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