What to Know
- Authorities swarmed a Plantation auto parts store Friday where a suspect in the suspicious packages investigation was taken into custody
- The suspect was identified as 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc Jr., who faces 5 federal charges and up to 48 years in prison
Federal authorities have charged a South Florida man in connection with the 14 mail bombs sent to high-profile Democrats and others in recent days, law enforcement officials said.
Cesar Sayoc Jr., 56, was taken into FBI custody in Plantation Friday morning in the area of State Road 7 and Southwest 6th Street, authorities said.
Sayoc Jr. is formerly from New York and has an address in Aventura, Florida. Public records show he has an extensive record of arrests for battery, theft, moving violations, and steroid-related charges - as well as a 2002 incident where he threatened to throw a bomb. (He pleaded guilty in that case and received probation.) Records also indicate he had a 2009 foreclosure and a 2012 bankruptcy.
Officials say it's not yet clear whether he allegedly acted alone or had help but authorities said DNA evidence played a role in the arrest. FBI officials also have not disclosed a motive.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, FBI Director Christopher Wray said a fingerprint found on a package sent to California Rep. Maxine Waters matched Sayoc. Wray also mentioned a possible DNA connection between samples collected from two separate IEDs and a sample previously collected from Sayoc in connection with a previous arrest in Florida.
At least 14 IEDs were sent to people, and they included PVC pipe, a small clock, a battery and wiring, federal authorities said.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Sayoc will face five federal charges, including interstate transportation of explosives, illegal mailing of explosives, and making threats against a former president and other persons. He faces up to 48 years in prison, federal officials said.
"This is utterly unacceptable. Political violence or the threat of violence is antithetical to our vigorous system of self government," Sessions said. "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."
Footage showed a heavy police presence in the parking lot of an auto parts store in Plantation, where Sayoc was arrested. FBI agents were seen placing a covering over a white van that was in the parking lot before taking it away on a flatbed truck.
The van had windows covered with decals depicting President Donald Trump, the Republican elephant symbol and other images.On Friday afternoon, FBI agents searched Sayoc's mother's apartment in Aventura. Sayoc did not live with his mother and recently lived in the van, according to the family lawyer.
Neighbors in the area of Hollywood Beach described seeing Sayoc pull up to the beach with the garishly decorated van and use the public shower almost every morning.
"We called him the 'Trump Nazi,'" one man told NBC 6. "He was just a scary guy. He didn't really speak to anybody."
Sayoc will make his first appearance in federal court Monday afternoon in Miami, according to a spokesperson from the U.S. Attorney's Office.
FBI agents were seen inside the Auto Zone in Plantation, but an Auto Zone spokesperson said Sayoc was not an employee and was just shopping in the store.
"There was a loud boom, and when I looked out, I saw a whole lot of police cars," one witness to the arrest, a woman who declined to give her name, told NBC News. "There’s a lot of commotion out there. All I know is they arrested the bomber."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he had been briefed on the situation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
"ANY attempt to harm others is disgusting and has no place in Florida or our country. I appreciate the hard work of law enforcement to bring swift justice to whoever is responsible for these cowardly acts," Scott said in a statement.
Speaking at the White House Friday, President Donald Trump decried political violence and said that "Americans must unify."
"We must never allow political violence to take root in America," Trump said. "I'm committed to doing everything in my power as president to stop it."
A massive investigation was launched earlier in the week after suspicious packages were sent to a number of high-profile Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
On Friday, a suspicious package addressed to New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker was intercepted at a U.S. Postal Service facility in Opa-locka.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz – former chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee – thanked law enforcement in a statement released after Sayoc's arrest. Two of her district offices in Sunrise and Aventura were evacuated Wednesday after reports of a suspicious package addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder at her Sunrise office. The package, which was never delivered, listed Wasserman Schultz as the sender.
"The suspect who was apprehended in no way represents the character of our community or what we stand for," Wasserman Schultz said in the statement. "I'm confident that this attack on our democracy will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We will never let those who use violence intimidate us or keep us from doing our jobs. Love, compassion, and kindness will always win out over hate."
Authorities said at least 14 packages have been found as part of the investigation.