On the Internet and in real life, Cesar Sayoc was not shy about broadcasting his support for Donald Trump and his contempt for those the president might consider enemies.
He plastered stickers across his white van supportive of Trump, alongside images of the president’s critics with red targets over their faces and a large decal that read, “CNN sucks.” On Twitter, the 56-year-old trafficked conspiracy theories and ranted about liberal billionaire George Soros, former president Barack Obama, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and others whose politics were out of line with his.
“He was crazed, that’s the best word for him,” said Debra Gureghian, the general manager of New River Pizza and Fresh Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where Sayoc worked for several months. “There was something really off with him.”
On Friday, authorities arrested Sayoc, alleging in a criminal complaint that he was responsible for sending at least 13 potential explosive devices to prominent Democratic and media figures across the country in recent days – including Obama, Clinton, Soros, former attorney general Eric Holder, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and others.
Though officials declined to say what they believe motivated him, court records, his social media and those who know him make clear that Sayoc was troubled and, at least in recent years, deeply partisan. Ronald Lowy, an attorney representing members of Sayoc’s family, said he believed Sayoc was mentally ill and lived out of his vehicle for over a decade.
Sarah Jane Baumgartel, an attorney appointed Friday to represent Sayoc, declined to comment.
“I think this is a post-Trump sort of enticing somebody who maybe had some deep-seated issues, and this recent political climate seems to be bringing it to the surface with some people,” said Daniel Lurvey, a lawyer who represented Sayoc in the past.
One of Sayoc’s cousins, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that Sayoc was “a really good guy who wouldn’t want to hurt anyone,” and that the bombs – which didn’t detonate – were “a hoax.”
“This was his way of getting attention,” the cousin said. “He just wanted to get his opinion out there.”
The cousin said that while he did not know Sayoc to be political, he could intuit his relative’s message.
“He was saying you can’t speak against the president,” the cousin said. “The next guy who says we want to kick them when they’re down, he’s going to learn not to say that.” The cousin said that was a reference to Holder’s quipping at a recent campaign event, “When they go low, we kick them.”
Sayoc, a registered Republican who lives in Aventura, Florida, near Miami, attended Brevard College in North Carolina, where he was a member of the soccer team, according to a school yearbook. He also was listed as a member of the Canterbury Club, a religious organization. A yearbook photo showed him posing behind someone in a bishop’s robe.
Sayoc had worked in recent years as a pizza delivery driver. He claimed in a 2014 deposition that he had been a manager at a strip club called “Stir Crazy,” owner of a dry-cleaning store, a pro wrestler, a Chippendales dancer, a professional soccer player in Milan, and an arena football player in Arizona.
That work history, though, seems to have been inflated. Chippendales denied he was ever affiliated with the company. Sayoc also told co-workers that he was an American Indian from the Seminole tribe, that he lived on the reservation, and that he had done work for the Hard Rock Casino. But the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Seminole Gaming and Hard Rock International said they could find no evidence to support that. His cousin said Sayoc’s father is Filipino and his mother Italian.
Lawyer David McDonald, who questioned Sayoc for the deposition, said Sayoc was “glib and articulate,” but also “maybe delusional.”
“He described himself at the center of all these business ventures with all these people. It didn’t seem like it could be true,” McDonald said.
Sayoc was no stranger to law enforcement, racking up several arrests for larceny, fraud and drug possession.
In 2002, police in Miami charged Sayoc with calling Florida Power & Light and threatening to blow up the local electric utility. The report claims Sayoc said “it would be worse than Sept. 11.” He ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.
Discussing an arrest for a bomb threat in a later deposition, Sayoc said that he was “joking around,” but that a bomb squad had showed up at his dry-cleaning store.
Lowy, a Miami attorney, said he is representing Sayoc’s mother, Madeline Giardiello, and sisters Sabrina and Tina. Giardiello, 76, has been active in Democratic politics and was an officer on her condominium board in Aventura for many years, Lowy said. She has not spoken to her son in three years, and he never showed an interest in politics when he and his family were last in touch, Lowy said.
“They are overwhelmed with grief over this,” he said. “No one should have to receive these threats and devices, whether operable or not. And they’re sad for a child and brother who is so sick and apparently involved in this crazy activity.”
Lowy said he represented Sayoc on a number of matters over the years, which he called “unsophisticated, stupid stuff.”
“He lives in a fantasy. I have no doubt he’s mentally ill,” Lowy said.
Another cousin, Lenny Altieri, 67, said Sayoc had worked for years at various adult entertainment clubs in South Florida.
He last saw Sayoc at a holiday gathering five years ago, and he said Sayoc sent some racist texts to him afterward.
“He didn’t discuss politics. This had to be when Trump got in, very recently, that he lost his mind,” Altieri said.
He added that his cousin was “built like a freakin’ animal. He took too many steroids, and they make you crazy.”
Sayoc’s support of Trump seemed to predate the election: He tweeted his support of the then presidential candidate as far back as May 2016. At one point, a video clip shows, Sayoc attended a Trump rally.
He seemed to be fixated on Trump’s opponents. One account in his name mentioned George Soros 34 times, Barack Obama 29 times and Hillary Clinton 21 times over the years.
Of Holder, to whom authorities say Sayoc sent a package, the Florida man once wrote, “This man murdered for political reasons and got away with it.” The charges against Sayoc assert that he posted as recently as Wednesday a message critical of Soros. That was after authorities had recovered the package directed to the billionaire.
Gureghian, the general manager of New River Pizza and Fresh Kitchen, said that Sayoc worked as a delivery-truck driver for several months but quit in January. The white van he drove to deliver pizzas was covered in disturbing images, she said, so the restaurant required him to park it on the side where it could not be seen.
“It was puppets with their heads cut off, mannequins with their heads cut off, Ku Klux Klan, a black person being hung, anti-gay symbols, torchings, bombings, you name it, it was all over his truck,” Gureghian said.
Sayoc was kept on because he did his work reliably and good drivers are hard to find, she said. But he disturbed his co-workers with racist comments and texts, she said.
Gureghian said Sayoc quit in January and told her he had trained to be a truck driver hauling hazardous materials, with a “top secret” clearance.
“He would categorize himself as a white supremacist. He would just say, ‘Take back the world. That’s what he would always say, ‘Take back the world.’ ”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Matt Zapotosky, Annie Gowen, Sari Horwitz, Cleve R. Wootson Jr.