Mail bomb suspect makes first court appearance

Federal prosecutors want no bail for a man accused of sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats around the country.

Prosecutors said at the initial court hearing Monday for 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc that they believe he is a risk of flight and a danger to the community. A judge will hold a hearing Friday on whether Sayoc can be released on bail.

Sayoc was arrested last Friday on five federal charges relating to the bombs sent to Democrats and other prominent critics of President Donald Trump. He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers say Sayoc is entitled to be presumed innocent at this stage.

Sayoc will be prosecuted in New York rather than Miami. Friday’s hearing will also involve when he would be removed to New York.

An official earlier Sayoc had a list of elected officials and others who investigators believe were intended targets.

The official said investigators are scrutinizing Sayoc’s social media posts. Investigators believe Sayoc made the explosives in his van and that authorities recovered soldering equipment, a printer, and stamps similar to those used on the package bombs.

The official wasn’t authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press.

People who knew Sayoc described a transformation inspired by the rhetoric of President Donald Trump.

Thirteen years ago, Sayoc traveled the country leading a mixed-race troupe of male exotic dancers — he ran scams and had a temper, but a fellow dancer who is African-American said he never expressed racism or homophobia.

Years later, working as a pizza driver, Sayoc would often express hatred for minorities, Jews and gays, his manager said. He drove a van plastered with stickers supporting President Donald Trump, criticizing media outlets and showing rifle crosshairs over liberals such as Hillary Clinton and filmmaker Michael Moore. But she kept him around, even though she is a lesbian, because he was honest, dependable and never got into fights.

Why Sayoc changed so radically over the years remains a mystery, but to those who know him, there seems little question that he did.

“We were friends, we were boys, we traveled in the same van, slept in the same room,” said former dancer David Crosby, who is black. “When I think of the guy I knew and the guy I see now on MSNBC, CNN and at Trump rallies, I think, ‘Did he really slip?’” He thinks Trump’s sometimes bombastic criticism of liberals may have pushed Sayoc over the edge.

“He really wasn’t a bad guy,” a puzzled Crosby said.

But former pizza restaurant manager Debra Gureghian said that while Sayoc originally came across as respectful, articulate and polite, within days a dark side emerged and he told her he was disgusted by her sexuality.

“I was an abomination, I was God’s misfit … I was a mistake,” Gureghian said of her former employee, who quit his job earlier this year. Sayoc thought she “should burn in hell with Ellen DeGeneres and Rachel Maddow … and President Obama and Hillary Clinton.”

Sayoc, 56, was arrested Friday near Fort Lauderdale and is charged federally with mailing at least 13 mail bombs to prominent Democrats and other frequent targets of conservative ire, including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and the cable network CNN.

That radicalism is a stark contrast to the mid-2000s, when Sayoc managed and performed with two male-dance revues — “Men of Steel” and “American Hunks.” He never expressed political views back then, Crosby said.

“I don’t know if he was a Democrat or Republican,” said Crosby, who now runs a gym and is a comedian near Minneapolis.

Along with three or four other chiseled men, Crosby and Sayoc traveled the country by van, stripping to G-strings for screaming women in honkytonks and nightclubs. They would check into a motel, perform, bring women back to party, sleep a few hours and then get up early the next morning to drive several hours to the next gig.

“It’s a hard life,” Crosby said, quite seriously. The partying, bad food and lack of exercise takes a toll, he said.

Sayoc hosted, then danced last. Crosby said he and the other all-but-naked dancers would bring women up on stage, make them and their friends laugh and do some sexual innuendo — except Sayoc, who wasn’t a good performer.

He said Sayoc would have women sit in a chair, get between their legs and drive his pelvis into theirs hard — “bang, bang.”

“The chair is bouncing off the wall, their head is bouncing off the wall,” Crosby said. Sometimes, he would bite the women’s exposed skin hard enough to leave teeth marks. Crosby said women would complain to the other dancers that Sayoc was too rough, but no one ever called the police.

He said Sayoc had a “zero to 100” temper and would sometimes use his 6-foot, 250-pound frame to intimidate other men.

“If he wasn’t happy about something, he would definitely let you know,” Crosby said.

Still, he never saw Sayoc hit anyone and he treated his employees well — though he would sometimes scam the shows’ financial backers.

For example, Crosby said Sayoc would sometimes drive separately in his own older van, though not the now-infamous one he was arrested with. He would then take parts from the troupe’s newer van, which was owned by an investor, and swap them with dying parts from his clunker, Crosby said. Sayoc would then ask the investor to pay for the troupe van’s now-needed repairs.

Twelve years later, however, when Sayoc worked for Gureghian at New River Pizza in Fort Lauderdale, honesty and reliability were his job-saving attributes. He never stole and customers never complained, Gureghian said.

But until he quit earlier this year, he regularly subjected co-workers to fiery political rants. Gureghian called his views “pure hatred.”

He detested liberals, blacks, Jews and especially gays, who he called slurs, Gureghian said.

Gureghian said Sayoc used his van for deliveries and one rainy night he offered her a ride home.

“The first thing I did was kind of look to make sure — God forbid — if something happened, can I open that door to get out and how do I tuck and roll?” she said.

Sayoc lived in the van and Gureghian said it was a mess. There were empty containers from fast-food restaurants, men’s fitness supplements and alcoholic beverages. Dirty clothes were everywhere.

And, ominously, there were dolls with their heads cut off.

“He told me he was fixing them for his two nieces,” Gureghian said.

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