Update On Florida Mail Bomb Suspect
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The FBI has a suspect in custody in connection with at least a dozen suspicious packages sent to prominent Democrats and critics of President Trump. Cesar Sayoc was arrested Friday morning in Florida and faces federal charges. NPR's justice reporter Ryan Lucas joins us. Ryan, thanks so much for being with us.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: My pleasure.
SIMON: What a week - chaotic and concerning, as they say, with those pipe bombs showing up around the country. From what you know now, how'd the FBI crack the case?
LUCAS: It was really a clue pulled off of one of the packages that did it. Remember, when these packages started showing up, the authorities took charge of them, sent them to the FBI lab in Quantico, in Virginia. And folks there then ran tests on them, analyzed them, and they were able to pull a fingerprint off of one of these bubble-lined manila envelopes. That fingerprint matched Sayoc's. Authorities say there's also a possible DNA connection from two of the homemade pipe bombs that were sent.
SIMON: Matched 'cause he was in the system.
LUCAS: Exactly. Because of previous legal trouble. DNA connection appears to match Sayoc, as well. And then there's a third bit of evidence here, which is from the digital world. And that is, the FBI identified a Twitter account that it says belongs to Sayoc. Some of the words that were misspelled on the packages matched the wrong spellings on his Twitter account.
SIMON: And what more have we learned about this man in the white van in a parking lot?
LUCAS: (Laughter). He's 56 years old, resident of south Florida, registered as a Republican in March of 2016. There's a pretty long trail in public records of his legal troubles. He's faced felony, theft, fraud, drug charges. He was arrested over a bomb threat back in 2002, as well. He's clearly had financial difficulties over the years. He filed for bankruptcy, for example, in 2012. And in that filing, he said that he lived with his mother, that he didn't own any furniture.
We know that he spent a lot of time at the gym, and he also worked at a strip club. A lot of public attention, of course, has been put on this white van that you mentioned that authorities say belong to Sayoc. This, of course, is the one that was plastered with pro-Trump stickers, anti-Democrat, anti-CNN stickers. We've all seen a lot of photos of that.
SIMON: What are the next steps?
LUCAS: Well, he's been charged in federal court in New York with five counts. Those include illegally mailing explosives, threatening former presidents. He's currently being held at the federal detention center in Miami. He is expected to be in court on Monday. Now, two key questions after his arrest for authorities are, one, whether he was acting alone or had accomplices, and, two, whether there were any other packages still out there. And that's something that yesterday FBI Director Christopher Wray cautioned the public about. He said there may still be more out there.
As things stand, the FBI has confirmed at least 14 homemade explosive devices. Each one had a 6-inch piece of PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery, some wiring and potential explosive material. Folks at the FBI lab are still examining these to see whether they are indeed functional bombs, but Wray was explicit about this. He said, be sure, these were not hoax devices.
SIMON: And, of course, the packages were sent to prominent Democrats and critics of President Trump. Is there a political angle that seems to have motivated these actions?
LUCAS: Well, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked that exact question yesterday, and all that he would say is that Sayoc appears to be politically partisan, a partisan actor. That's what he said. But the motive will be determined by the facts of this case, and that is still being sorted out because this is still early in the investigation.
Social media posts appear to show, of course, that Sayoc attended Trump rallies. Certainly, the Twitter account that the feds have said is Sayoc's displays a lot of vitriol directed at Democrats. The FBI, of course, has seen all of this. They are going to make that determination through the course of the investigation.
SIMON: NPR's justice reporter Ryan Lucas, thanks so much for being with us.
LUCAS: My pleasure.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.