Before he was arrested for mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs to prominent critics of President Donald Trump — some of which included pictures of the intended targets with a red “X” over their faces — Cesar Sayoc lived a scattered and bizarre life in South Florida.
He was an avid bodybuilder who trained in mixed martial arts and a former exotic dancer and strip club manager who held a string of odd jobs, among them a Papa John’s pizza deliveryman and a DJ. He bought a house in Fort Lauderdale, which was foreclosed on in 2009, lived with his parents in an Aventura condo, and most recently slept in a white van papered with pro-Trump and right-wing stickers.
Along the way, Sayoc racked up a long rap sheet for everything from grand theft and battery to making a bomb threat against Florida Power & Light. He was also accused of domestic violence by a woman who appears to have been his grandmother.
But of all of his diverse interests, 56-year-old Sayoc’s fervent support for Trump appears to have been his greatest passion in recent years. Sayoc’s social media accounts were filled with photos of him wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap, videos of a Trump rally he attended in 2016 and pro-Trump news stories. He also shared racist memes and spouted conspiracy theories.
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His Twitter timeline was a greatest-hits collection of right-wing conspiracy theories: that Parkland survivor David Hogg is a government plant, that Oprah Winfrey wants “this whole generation of white people” to die and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is secretly Adolf Hitler’s daughter.
Sayoc’s heritage is less clear than his political beliefs. In a 2014 deposition for a federal lawsuit, Sayoc identified himself as Native American, Italian and Filipino. Born in Brooklyn to a Filipino father, according to Ancestry.com, Sayoc grew up in Florida and attended North Miami Beach Senior High. He also said in the deposition that he went to Miami Country Day, but the school could not immediately be reached to confirm his attendance.
Although a sticker on Sayoc’s van reads “Native Americans For Trump” and his Twitter feed included several references to the “Unconquered Seminole Tribe,” Seminole spokesman Gary Bitner said there are no records of Sayoc having ever been a member of the tribe.
Sayoc’s arrest on Friday morning was the latest in a long list of run-ins with law enforcement. He was formally charged Friday afternoon with five felonies, including interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents, threatening interstate communications and assaulting federal officers. He could spend decades in prison if convicted.
At the time of his arrest, Sayoc was working as a part-time DJ and weekend bouncer at a West Palm Beach strip club, according to the Palm Beach Post. Although FBI agents were already deep into the hunt for the person who mailed the pipe bombs on Thursday afternoon, Sayoc still showed up at his DJ gig at Ultra Gentlemen’s Club, the Post reported.
This isn’t the first time Sayoc has been connected to a bomb threat. In 2002, he called FPL because he was upset about the amount of his bill, court records show. “The defendant then stated that he didn’t deserve it and that he was going to blow up FPL,” according to files released by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
“FPL will get what they deserve and will be worse than 9/11,” Sayoc said, according to the case notes.
Sayoc also told an FPL employee that he “was going to blow her head off,” according to the case file. The call was recorded and Sayoc was later arrested by state law enforcement agents. He was sentenced to one year of probation.
In the 2014 deposition, Sayoc played down the arrest as “stupidity” when he called to complain about multiple charges from the utility to his Hallandale business, One Price Dry Cleaning.
“I got on the phone and I said, ‘What do I have to do, blow up a building to talk to somebody?’ ” he said in the deposition. “Then the bomb squad showed up to my store and I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ”
The case, however, did not make Sayoc a convicted felon or bar him from voting. He received a “withhold of adjudication,” which means the case did not technically count as a felony conviction. (Generally, a judge can withhold adjudication for people with minor criminal backgrounds.) Sayoc has been an active voter in recent years, records show. He has been registered to vote in Miami-Dade as a Republican since 2012 and voted in recent primary and general elections.
Sayoc was arrested on petty theft charges in Miami-Dade in 1992 and 2014 and sentenced to probation. He had multiple run-ins with the law in Broward County as well, dating back to the early 1990s, including for grand theft, battery and possession of steroids with intent to sell. The steroid charges were dismissed in 2005.
Sayoc was also involved in a domestic violence dispute with a woman named Viola Altieri, who appears to have been his grandmother. Altieri filed a civil complaint against Sayoc for domestic violence in 1994. She later filed a request to dismiss the complaint.
Despite his criminal history, however, Sayoc’s past didn’t hint at his alleged bomb threats against prominent Democratic figures, said a former state and federal prosecutor who has tried both murder and terrorism cases in South Florida.
“This is not a criminal mastermind by any stretch of the imagination, but he has had numerous interactions with law enforcement,” said Miami defense attorney David Weinstein, who formerly served as the chief of the counter-terrorism section in the U.S. attorney’s office.
“Something obviously triggered in him to take it one step further than he had ever gone before.”
Stripper, soccer player, bodybuilder
Sayoc claimed to have an eclectic resume that included playing professional sports and a decade-long tour with an adult entertainment group, but it’s unclear how much of it was true.
His LinkedIn page says he’s a promoter, booking agent and choreographer for burlesque and male strip shows. Sayoc is also the manager of a catering company in Hallandale Beach called Native American Catering & Vending, according to business records. He registered a second Hallandale Beach company, VER TECH AG, in July.
The address where Sayoc registered the catering company appears to be a P.O. box at a Hallandale Beach post office. Employees at the post office wouldn’t say whether the FBI had searched the P.O. box. There was no sign of the FBI or other law enforcement at the post office on Friday afternoon.
Sayoc claimed in the 2014 deposition that he spent time playing for professional arena football teams in Milan and Arizona after college, as well as a short stint in a professional wrestling camp in St. Paul, Minnesota. It’s unclear whether these claims are true.
Sayoc had a beefy muscular build, and photos on his Twitter account suggest he fancied himself part of South Florida’s mixed martial arts community. In one series of old photos posted online, Sayoc is depicted shirtless and oiled up, flexing in a bodybuilder pose.
A local MMA promoter, Frank Morejon, recognized Sayoc as a hanger-on from local gyms but said he was a “nothing” in the fight scene. “He was not a major player in the MMA scene,” said Morejon, who runs a website dedicated to South Florida MMA. “Nobody cares about him.”
Sayoc also has a history of financial troubles. A two-bedroom, two-bathroom home he owned in Fort Lauderdale was foreclosed on in 2009, three years after he purchased it. Sayoc filed for bankruptcy in 2012, records show. At the time, he said he worked at a Hollywood food market and owed creditors $21,000, much of it in credit card debt.
In the 2014 deposition, Sayoc said he had a 35-year history of work in the strip club industry — including a 17-year stint on the road with the Chippendales — as a dancer, manager, booker and promoter. He name-dropped several prominent local clubs, from Stir Crazy in Pinecrest to Porky’s in Hialeah to Dean’s Gold in North Miami Beach.
While on probation for a 2014 theft charge, Sayoc asked the court to let him travel for his job as a road manager for “a variety of traveling male revue shows, Chippendales, International Gold Productions, Cesar Palace Royale Burlesque Show, etc.,” according to Broward County court records. A judge granted his request.
Tony Valentine, owner of a male strip company called Valentine Productions, wrote a letter to the court on Sayoc’s behalf, stating that Sayoc is “a vital part of managing and overseeing my road productions and revenue from club venues.” In the deposition, Sayoc referred to Valentine as a partner.
Reached by telephone on Friday, Valentine first said he declined comment, then expressed regret over writing the letter.
“I met him a million year ago and he got caught stealing and wanted me to write a letter to the judge down in Florida,” Valentine said. “I never should have done that.”
Sayoc also lived in North Carolina as a young man. He studied at Brevard College in North Carolina for three semesters in the early 1980s, but did not graduate, according to the college. He also studied at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte for one year in the mid-1980s and played soccer at the school, a spokeswoman for the university said.
In the 2014 deposition, Sayoc said he was attending High Point University to finish his degree and become a “horse doctor.” The university said it has no record he attended the school.
Sayoc’s dream, he said in the deposition, was to open his own strip club in the Midwest one day — Cesar’s Palace Royale.
A previous version of this article listed the wrong name for Sayoc’s catering company. It is Native American Catering & Vending, not North American Catering & Vending.