Mail bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc was a mentally ill man searching for a way to fit into American society, and he found it by acting on President Donald Trump’s vengeful rhetoric, said the Miami lawyer who represented Sayoc in a previous bomb threat case.
Sayoc, who was living in Hollywood, Florida, out of a van plastered with stickers glorifying Trump and superimposed with rifle scope crosshairs on the faces of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, was arrested Friday in Plantation and charged with sending pipe bombs via the U.S. Postal Service to prominent Democrats.
But Sayoc, 56, who used to live in Aventura with his mother and graduated from North Miami Beach High School, was no criminal mastermind, said Ron Lowy, a family friend who defended Sayoc in 2002 when he was charged with threatening Florida Power & Light employees over a pricey bill and in 2004 when Sayoc was charged with possessing steroids with intent to sell.
Lowy described Sayoc as an unsophisticated loner who wanted to impress people but failed at everything he pursued, from strip club dancing to bodybuilding to professional fighting to the dry cleaning business.
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“He wasn’t successful in anything he did,” Lowy said. “He’s been bankrupt, gone into foreclosure. He’s 14 years old living in an adult body.”
Sayoc’s claim of affiliation with the Seminole Tribe of Florida was an example of Sayoc’s desire for a sense of belonging. He said Sayoc used to drive a vehicle plastered with Seminole Tribe and Native American stickers and showed him a scrapbook filled with photos of Sayoc as an exotic dancer and aspiring pro wrestler.
“He’s half Filipino, on his father’s side, and he’s half Italian,” Lowy said. “He’s been living and creating this fantasy for a very long time. He’ll deny it’s a fantasy. But I will suggest to you it’s probably a result of emotional issues that come from his father abandoning him and returning to the Philippines when he was a child.
“He wanted a background. He wanted to be liked by people so he created this story.”
Sayoc never got the mental health treatment he needed and refused to seek help even when his family begged him to, Lowy said.
“Maybe we should have realized he’s sick,” Lowy said. “This was the first indication that violence would manifest without help. In my opinion by that point it’s too late.”
Lowy hasn’t spoken to Sayoc in a decade but he still represents Sayoc’s mother and two sisters. He met the mother, Madeleine Giardiello, at a local hospital Friday, where she was recovering from surgery, he said. She’s a lifelong Democrat but her son never showed much interest in politics and had never voted until two years ago, she told Lowy.
“His family is very distraught. They feel horrible for the community,” Lowy said. “They feel bad for the people that were hurt by his crazy message and actions. And they are sorry and sad for their son to be in this situation. They wish he had gotten the help he needed.”
Sayoc has posted photos of himself at a Trump rally and wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap, and his social media accounts were filled with pro-Trump and anti-Democrat rants.
Lowy said the steroid charges against Sayoc were dismissed in 2005, though Sayoc was ordered to enter a drug abuse rehabilitation program which included random testing and a 12-step course.
Sayoc received probation for the bomb threat charges — a sentence that in hindsight Lowy wishes had included mental health counseling.
“Looking back you say of course we should have known,” Lowy said. “It took 16 years to get to this point.