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Pipe bomb suspect Cesar Sayoc's lawyers want federal case shifted to N.Y. defense team

Ryan Mills
USA TODAY NETWORK - FLORIDA
In this courtroom sketch, Cesar Sayoc, left, appears in federal court, Oct. 29, 2018, in Miami. Sayoc is accused of sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats around the country.

MIAMI — Florida lawyers for Cesar Sayoc, accused of mailing bombs to more than a dozen critics of President Donald Trump, want his defense team in New York to take over the federal case, which they argued Friday remains "flimsy." 

Sayoc, 56, appeared briefly before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres on Friday and waived his rights to have removal and pretrial detention hearings in Miami.

His Florida lawyers said after the hearing it was “premature” to contest anything about the case until more facts are known. They said it is more appropriate for Sayoc’s defense team in New York to handle the rest of the case, including a possible fight over bond.

“You’ve got one shot at a pretrial detention hearing,” said Jamie Benjamin, one of three Fort Lauderdale lawyers handling Sayoc’s case in Florida. “The decision-making process during the whole case should be theirs, the ones representing him in the long run.”

Sayoc’s lawyers also continued to describe the evidence against their client as “flimsy.”

“They talk about possible DNA. No government document or allegation at this point has confirmed there’s DNA,” Benjamin said. “Possible: that’s a word that doesn’t make it in a court of law.”

Sayoc wore a brown jail jumpsuit Friday when he appeared in court for the hearing, which lasted less than 5 minutes. It’s unclear when or how he will be transported to New York, his lawyers said.

He faces five federal charges related to mailing improvised explosive devices to at least 15 Democratic politicians and activists, including former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and billionaire Democratic donors George Soros and Tom Steyer.

Previously:Mail bomber suspect Cesar Sayoc remains in Florida as investigators find another package

More:Family saw early signs of mental problems in mail bomber suspect Cesar Sayoc, but no help

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Cesar Sayoc, 56, is seen in an undated booking photo.

None of the bombs exploded, though federal officials have said they contained “energetic material with explosive qualities” and some contained shards of glass.

Sayoc faces up to 48 years in prison if convicted of all charges, including interstate transportation of an explosive, illegal mailing of an explosive and threats against former presidents.

 

This frame grab from video provided by WPLG-TV shows FBI agents escorting Cesar Sayoc, in sleeveless shirt, in Miramar, Fla., on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. Sayoc is an amateur body builder and former male stripper, a loner with a long arrest record who showed little interest in politics until Donald Trump came along. On Friday, he was identified by authorities as the Florida man who put pipe bombs in small manila envelopes, affixed six stamps and sent them to some of Donald Trump's most prominent critics.

Prosecutors said evidence shows Sayoc began planning the attacks as early as mid-July while he was living in the Miami area in his white van, which is covered with images of Trump and posters critical of top Democrats.

Investigators searched a laptop in Sayoc’s van and found lists of addresses that match the labels on the bombs that were mailed.

They also found repeated copies of return labels with the same address and misspelling of U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s name as the return labels on the bomb packages. The return labels had the same typeface, font and font size as the packages, prosecutors said in court filings.

Cesar Sayoc's van, covered in political stickers supporting Donald Trump and opposing the president's critics.

While searching the laptop and Sayoc’s cellphone, investigators found internet searches for addresses of the targets and their families.

Documents on the laptop also contained addresses for “numerous additional targets,” prosecutors said. Those targets were not named, but all of them have been notified by the FBI.

“Put simply, only the defendant’s arrest and incapacitation resulting from his detention were sufficient to stop his attack,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a letter to the court.

Sayoc, who lived in his van for much of the last decade, listed his mother’s Aventura condo as his residence. He has been estranged from his family for years, a family lawyer said.

Sayoc’s social media posts glorified Trump, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee whom the president has endorsed for Florida governor. His posts also vilify Democrats, including Andrew Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor engaged in a heated battle with DeSantis.

Accused pipe bomber Cesar Sayoc was photographed holding an anti-CNN sign at a 2017 Trump rally in Melbourne.

People who know Sayoc said his obsession with Republican politics started only in the last few years.

Family members have described Sayoc as a mentally disturbed man who refused requests to seek help.

For years, he had struggled to maintain friendships and hold a steady job, bouncing from job to job. He has worked as a pizza delivery driver, in strip clubs and at a dry cleaning business.

He regularly lied about his family history, claiming to be a member of the Seminole Tribe. Sayoc is not Native American. His mother is Italian and his father is Filipino.

Federal officials pointed to Sayoc’s criminal history as another reason to keep him behind bars. He has a string of arrests dating to 1991 for alleged theft and drug offenses.   

In 2002, he was sentenced to a year of probation after he screamed at a Florida Power and Light employee on the phone, threatening to “blow up FPL” in a manner “worse than Sept. 11.” Court records show he was angry about an electric bill.  

Stir Crazy, the Miami strip club where Cesar Sayoc used to work. Sayoc, accused of mailing potential explosive devices across the country to critics of President Donald Trump, claimed a long history of working in the adult entertainment business, according to Florida court records.