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What We Know About Cesar Sayoc, The Man Charged In The Suspicious Packages Case


Four days since suspicious packages addressed to prominent Democrats began showing up around the country, authorities today arrested a 56-year-old man in Florida.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY: Though we're still analyzing the devices in our laboratory, these are not hoax devices.

CORNISH: FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a press conference today that fingerprints and possible DNA led authorities to the suspect, Cesar Sayoc.


WRAY: We do believe that we've caught the right guy. But we also know that this is an ongoing investigation. And there's a lot of work still to be done, which means there are still plenty of unanswered questions.

CORNISH: NPR's Martin Kaste joins us now to talk more about this investigation. Hey there, Martin.


CORNISH: So what more have we learned about Cesar Sayoc?

KASTE: Well, as they have said there, he is 56-year-old - 56 years old, lives just outside of Miami, north of Miami in Broward County. And the FBI said they identified him by a fingerprint. And that's important because if the FBI can ID you that quickly from a latent print, you're probably in the system, and you've probably been arrested a lot. And in fact, he has been. He has a record going back a couple decades for shoplifting, various kinds of theft. He was even charged at one point with altering his driver's license to - so that he would look younger because he was single. In 2002, he was charged with threatening to throw an explosive device.

CORNISH: Now, do these previous crimes indicate a pattern of political grudges, though, or political violence? I mean, you mentioned that bomb threat that he had made.

KASTE: Not really as far as we can tell. I mean, he has been very active online, very pro-Trump. He's a registered Republican. But there's no indication before this that we know of that he's been involved in any kind of political violence or intimidation. His lawyer on some of those older criminal cases from about a decade and a half ago is named Ron Lowy. And he recalls that 2002 bomb threat situation as a case of his client losing his temper with a power company. He says that he was talking on the phone with them about a problem, and at some point he said, if - maybe you'll give me a better service if I throw a bomb at you. They called the police. And ultimately Lowy, his attorney, says prosecutors sort of concluded that there was no evidence that there was anything here more than immature, angry talk, no evidence that he could produce a bomb.

RON LOWY: I believe he has issues comprehending concepts. I think he has maturity issues. He is like a little boy in a man's body.

CORNISH: A little boy in a man's body - can we clarify that? Is he saying Sayoc has a mental disability?

KASTE: He believes that Sayoc does. Lowy has known this family for years. They hired him originally to represent their son in those cases. And he'd just talked to the family right before he talked to me. And he says they're completely distraught. They don't share their son's politics. They've long wanted to get him some mental health help, but he refuses treatment. And Lowy he doesn't know what kind of diagnosis he might have. But he believes that whatever it is, it's very serious, that Sayoc has trouble focusing on what people are saying, that he has trouble with concepts, abstractions. He also says Sayoc has lived in a van. Lowy doesn't recognize the van we've all seen in the news today that's been photographed with all those pro-Trump stickers on the van. But he says that when he knew Sayoc years ago, Sayoc was - also had a very distinctive-looking van.

LOWY: He even then drove a vehicle covered with Indian memorabilia because he believed himself to be an American Indian when in fact he has no Indian blood. His mother is Italian. His father is Filipino. And his mother would tell him constantly, why do you keep telling people you're Native American? Why do you put these things on your car? I mean, these are very odd behaviors of someone who doesn't live in reality.

KASTE: And Sayoc claimed to be Seminole. And the Seminole tribe has said today that they have no evidence in their records that he was.

CORNISH: All right, we'll continue to follow this story. NPR's Martin Kaste, thanks so much.

KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.