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South Florida

‘Hit list’ with more than 100 names found in mail bomb suspect’s van, sources say


Cesar Sayoc, a strident supporter of President Donald Trump charged with directing a mail-bomb campaign in South Florida against prominent Democrats, kept a “hit list” of more than 100 potential political targets, according to law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation.

The 56-year-old Aventura man, arrested Friday on charges of sending more than a dozen pipe bombs in manila envelopes to Democratic targets across the country, wrote down the names and addresses on the list. The document, which includes the names of some targets already sent bombs through the mail, was found in the van in which Sayoc lived and where he is suspected of making the explosive devices, sources said.

U.S. authorities have notified some of the potential targets on the list found in Sayoc’s van as investigators continued to track more possible mailings, including one recovered Monday at an Atlanta postal facility that was addressed to CNN’s headquarters.

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Discovery of the hit list came to light Monday as Sayoc remained locked up behind bars after he made his first federal court appearance in Miami — before an expected move to New York, where his case will be formally prosecuted.

In Miami federal court, Sayoc’s defense attorneys were granted more time to prepare a request for a bond, and Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres agreed to set a detention hearing on that matter for Friday. New York federal prosecutor Jane Kim said the government would oppose any bond for Sayoc, calling him a danger to the community and a flight risk.

The defendant, wearing a khaki prison jumpsuit, shackled and surrounded by U.S. marshals, said little about his case during the brief hearing but seemed to be fighting back tears. Wearing short-cropped hair with a ponytail, he did identify himself to the judge as Cesar Sayoc.

Outside the courthouse, Sayoc’s defense attorneys, Daniel Aaronson and Jamie Benjamin, downplayed the strength of the U.S. government’s criminal complaint against their client after his first court appearance — one that drew dozens of reporters and photographers because of the national notoriety of the case.

Benjamin said the initial federal complaint filed against Sayoc contained little to link him to the crime, calling the evidence “flimsy stuff.” The defense attorney raised questions about the FBI’s evidence of one “latent fingerprint” on a manila envelope that matches Sayoc’s and a “possible DNA association” between two mail bombs and Sayoc’s genetic sample from a prior criminal case.

Attorney Daniel Aaronson talks to the media after attending a hearing for his client, Cesar Sayoc, at the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida in downtown Miami on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. MATIAS J. OCNER

“There is no indication that there are bombs out there that have anything to do with Mr. Sayoc,” Benjamin said outside the courthouse.

The FBI criminal complaint, filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, charges Sayoc with interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of explosives, threats against former presidents and certain other persons, threatening interstate communications, and assaulting federal officers. It does not mention the long list of potential targets that sources said was recovered from Sayoc’s van, but that and other information could emerge during Friday’s hearing.

So far, a total of 15 similar manila packages containing crudely made explosives have been linked to Sayoc’s alleged mail-bomb campaign. Law enforcement sources said there are still some concerns that more packages might be in transit or in other postal facilities, a worry elevated by the latest find in Atlanta and the discovery of the target list.

According to sources familiar with the probe, Sayoc told FBI agents and other authorities during a brief interview Friday at the bureau’s South Florida field office in Miramar that he never meant to hurt any of the intended targets — though the FBI’s director later said the pipe bombs were not “hoax devices.” Sayoc eventually clammed up, invoking his Miranda rights and asking to speak with a lawyer. None of the devices exploded.

The targets listed in the complaint are former President Barack Obama, former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and, by reference, her husband, former President Bill Clinton), former Vice President Joe Biden, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, billionaire philanthropist and donor George Soros, and actor and director Robert De Niro.

Packages for Soros, De Niro, Clinton, Brennan and Clapper were mailed to the New York area, including those to Brennan and Clapper addressed to the Manhattan offices of CNN.

Sayoc, a former male stripper who had been living out of a van festooned with pro-Trump stickers and artwork depicting Obama and Hillary Clinton in crosshairs, is being held at the Miami Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami.

Federal agents are still searching for other possible suspects in South Florida who may have helped Sayoc, who was arrested at an auto parts store in Plantation.

On Friday, FBI Director Christopher Wray would not say if there might be other potential suspects associated with the bomb-filled packages, citing the ongoing investigation. But the FBI director warned there could still be other suspicious envelopes en route to political targets.

“Today’s arrest does not mean we’re out of the woods,” he said during a news conference in Washington, D.C. “There may be other packages in transit now — other packages on the way.”

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