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How The FBI Caught A Suspect With a DNA and a Fingerprint

Sayoc was taken into custody near an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, north of Miami.

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Cesar Sayoc, who was arrested during an investigation into a series of parcel bombs, is escorted from an FBI facility in Miramar, Florida, Oct. 26, 2018 in a still image from video.. VOA

In the hours before his arrest, as federal authorities zeroed in and secretly accumulated evidence, Cesar Sayoc was in his element: spinning classic and Top 40 hits in a nightclub where he’d found work as a DJ.

As he entertained patrons from a dimly lit booth overlooking a stage at the Ultra Gentlemen’s Club, where Halloween decorations hung in anticipation of a costume party, he could not have known that investigators that very evening were capitalizing on his own mistakes to build a case against him.

He almost certainly had no idea that lab technicians had linked DNA on two pipe bomb packages he was accused of sending to prominent Democrats to a sample previously collected by Florida state authorities. Or that a fingerprint match had turned up on a separate mailing the authorities say he sent.

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The FBI released this poster, Oct. 25, 2018, asking for the public’s assistance in finding the people responsible for sending suspicious packages to multiple locations across the United States. VOA

 

And he was probably unaware that investigators scouring his social media accounts had found the same spelling mistakes on his online posts — “Hilary” Clinton, Debbie Wasserman “Shultz” — as on the mailings he’d soon be charged with sending.

Wealth of clues

In the end, prosecutors who charged Sayoc with five federal crimes Friday say the fervent President Donald Trump supporter unwittingly left behind a wealth of clues, affording them a critical break in a coast-to-coast investigation into pipe bomb mailings that spread fear of election-season violence. The bubble-wrapped manila envelopes, addressed to Democrats such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and intercepted from Delaware to California, held vital forensic evidence that investigators say they leveraged to arrest Sayoc four days after the investigation started.

“Criminals make mistakes so the more opportunities that law enforcement has to detect them, the greater chance they’re going to be able to act on that, and that appears to be what happened here,” said former Justice Department official Aloke Chakravarty, who prosecuted the Boston Marathon bombing case.

First package

But it wasn’t always clear that such a break would come, at least not on Monday when the first package arrived: a pipe bomb delivered via mail to an estate in Bedford, New York, belonging to billionaire liberal activist George Soros. That same day, Sayoc, still under the radar of law enforcement, retweeted a post saying, “The world is waking up to the horrors of George Soros.”

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The gate is closed at the entrance to a house owned by philanthropist George Soros in Katonah, N.Y., a suburb of New York City. VOA

Additional packages followed, delivered the next day for Clinton and Obama and after that to the cable network CNN, former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democratic targets of conservative ire.

Each additional delivery created more unease. But together they also provided more leads for the FBI, which mined each pipe bomb for clues at a laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.

A breakthrough

As the packages rolled in, technicians got a breakthrough: a fingerprint and DNA left on a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat and one of the intended pipe bomb recipients, and DNA on a piece of pipe bomb intended for Obama. The FBI said it had identified no other possible matches on the evidence it had examined.

Besides that, the FBI said, his social media posts that traffic in online conspiracy theories, parody accounts and name-calling include some of the same misspellings as were noticed on the 13 packages he was charged with sending.

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Officers watch over the scene outside the Time Warner Center, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN’s offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. VOA

The clues, authorities say, led them to a 56-year-old man with a long criminal history who’d previously filed for bankruptcy and appeared to be living in his van, showering on the beach or at a local fitness center.

As the FBI worked around the clock, and as Americans were busy debating the hard-edged political climate and whether Trump had fanned the flames with his rhetoric, it was business as usual for Sayoc as he took to Twitter to denigrate targets like Soros. That was not uncommon for the amateur body builder and former stripper whose social media accounts are peppered with memes supporting Trump and posts vilifying Democrats.

‘We don’t talk politics’

On Thursday from noon to 9 p.m. as law enforcement grew ever closer, descending on a postal sorting facility in Opa-locka, Florida, Sayoc was working as a disc jockey at a West Palm Beach nightclub where he’d found work in the last two months. There, he spun his music from inside a small dimly lit booth overlooking a stage with performers dancing below. Autographed photos of scantily clad and nude adult entertainers were plastered across the walls like wallpaper.

“I didn’t know this guy was mad crazy like this,” said Stacy Saccal, the club’s manager. “Never once did he speak politics. This is a bar. We don’t talk politics or religion in a bar, you know?”

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Cesar Sayoc appears in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in this Aug. 31, 2005, handout booking photo obtained by Reuters. VOA

But Scott Meigs, another DJ at the club, had a different experience.

He said Sayoc had been talking about politics to everybody at the club for the last two weeks, preaching the need to elect Republicans during the November elections.

“I just figured he was passionate about the upcoming elections,” Meigs said.

The next morning, Sayoc was taken into custody near an auto parts store in Plantation, Florida, north of Miami. Across the street, Thomas Fiori, a former federal law enforcement officer, said he saw about 50 armed officers swarm a man standing outside a white van with windows plastered with stickers supporting Trump and criticizing media outlets including CNN.

Also Read: Twitter Releases Tweets Showing Attempts Of Influence On U.S. Politics From Foreign Countires

They ordered him to the ground, Fiori said, and he did not resist.

“He had that look of, ‘I’m done, I surrender,”’ Fiori said. (VOA)

Next Story

Advance Of Summit, NATO Pacify Trump

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal

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Flags of NATO member countries are seen at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. VOA

As Britain prepares for the NATO leaders’ meeting outside London December 3-4, the alliance said Thursday it had agreed to redistribute costs and cut the U.S. contribution to its central budget.

NATO’s central budget is relatively small at around $2.5 billion a year, mostly covering headquarters operations and staff, and different than its defense budget. U.S. President Donald Trump often complains of inequitable burden-sharing, with only nine of the 29 member countries meeting the 2%  of gross domestic product target for the alliance’s defense spending.

Regarding the central budget, “The U.S. will pay less, Germany will pay more, so now the U.S. and Germany will pay the same,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Paris Thursday.

The United States currently pays about 22% of NATO’s central budget. Beginning 2021, both U.S. and Germany will contribute about 16%.

NATO also plans to consider a Franco-German proposal to create a working group of “respected figures” to discuss reform in the alliance and address concerns about its future.

The announcement to reduce the American contribution is seen as a move to placate Trump, who has considered withdrawing from the alliance but has since taken credit for its promised reforms.

“In 2016, only four allies spent 2%  of GDP on defense,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday, adding that there are now nine countries, including the U.S.,  meeting the 2% target, with 18 expected to do so by 2024.

“This is tremendous progress, and I think it is due to the president’s diplomatic work,” he said.

 U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO
A convoy of U.S. vehicle is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

Internal strife

Leaders of the 29 member states will attempt a show of unity during the summit but the alliance is facing questioning about its relevance and unity, particularly after the October withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, a move Trump made without consulting NATO.

“It’s exactly in the wake of that decision that you had [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron say what he said about the alliance being ‘brain-dead’ and referencing the lack of American leadership in the sense of leading in a community and not just going out on your own,” said Gary Schmitt, a NATO analyst with the American Enterprise Institute.

U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Syria prompted Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria. The move spurred Macron to vent his frustration over what French diplomats say is NATO’s lack of coordination at a political level, and triggered fear among allies that the assault will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.

Meanwhile, a simmering war between Russia and Ukraine has become the backdrop of Trump’s impeachment, with the American president allegedly having withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate running against Trump. Kyiv needs the aid to counter Moscow’s aggression.

The two conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern flank further complicate Washington’s already-strained relations with other NATO members. Meanwhile, despite American efforts to reassure European leaders of Washington’s continuing commitment, anxiety about U.S. neglect of NATO under Trump persists, said Hans Kundnani, Senior Research Fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine. VOA

Kundnani noted a series of American officials who have come to reassure Europeans not to take Trump’s tweets too seriously and focus on what is happening on the ground, particularly the military reinforcement of NATO’s eastern flank. Still, Kundnani said that in the last year Europeans have started to realize it’s “not really good enough” and they’re now facing the “reality of the of the crisis in NATO.”

“Some of them are hoping that Trump will be out of office in in a year’s time but the real fear is that Trump wins a second term,” said Kundnani, adding that some Europeans are hoping that “U.S. gradual withdrawal from Europe” might “snap back to the status quo ante if Trump is not re-elected.”

Diverging European responses

“The upcoming celebration of NATO’s 70th anniversary will be marked by important divisions within the alliance — not just across the Atlantic, but also within Europe,” said Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

In Paris, the view is “strategic autonomy,” said Donfried, with many in France concluding that Washington’s security guarantee can no longer be relied on. Warsaw is promoting “strategic embrace”  developing close bilateral relationship with Trump to guarantee its own security, while Berlin is advocating “strategic patience.”

Germany in the middle is a little bit divided between the “Atlanticists” and the “post-Atlanticists,”   Kundani said, adding that “Europeans are very much arguing” about these approaches.

Donfried said that against this backdrop, NATO allies are approaching the London summit with a sense of foreboding, knowing that they carry the responsibility to articulate alliance’s common purpose and ongoing relevance.

“If they don’t, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be raising a glass in Moscow to the fraught state of the alliance at 70,” she said.

Another summit goal for most European leaders, is to simply avoid a Trump flare-up, like those that have happened in past meetings.

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President Donald Trump meets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the United Nations General Assembly, New York. VOA

Many have discovered this can be achieved through flattery. “They can talk about all the things that they’ve done and very smartly suggest that President Trump has generated the kind of pressure to make those things happen,” Schmitt said.

“They can actually praise President Trump, even though this is very hard for them to do because of the personality clashes.”

Many will be watching Trump’s encounters with Macron, including their bilateral meeting, as well as with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Johnson has pleaded for Trump to stay out of the upcoming British election during his London trip.

The senior administration official said that Trump is “aware of this” and “absolutely cognizant of not wading into other countries’ elections.”

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Other potential clashes are simmering too. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s NATO “brain-death” warning reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”

The French foreign ministry has summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest the statement. (VOA)