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Suspect in suspicious mailings pleads not guilty in NYC court

By Danielle Haynes
Suspect in suspicious mailings pleads not guilty in NYC court
A judge scheduled Cesar Sayoc Jr.'s trial to begin July 15. File Photo courtesy Broward County Sheriff's Office

Nov. 15 (UPI) -- A Florida man accused of sending 16 suspicious packages to critics of President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to charges Thursday in a Manhattan courthouse.

Cesar Sayoc Jr., 56, entered the plea through his attorney to charges of interstate transport of explosives, mailing explosives, threats against former presidents, making threatening interstate communications and assault of current or former officials.

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A judge scheduled Sayoc's trial -- expected to last three weeks -- to begin July 15.

Police arrested Sayoc Oct. 26 after tracking his van to the parking lot of an Auto Zone store in Plantation, Fla.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray said forensic investigators identified Sayoc as a suspect in the mailings after discovering a latent fingerprint on the envelope of a package sent to Rep. Maxine Waters' California office. Officials said two other devices also carried evidence linked to DNA collected from Sayoc on a prior arrest.

Prosecutors accuse Sayoc of sending what appeared to be improvised explosive devices to Waters; billionaire investor and Democratic supporter George Soros; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; former President Barack Obama; former Attorney General Eric Holder; former CIA Director John Brennan via CNN; former Vice President Joe Biden; actor Robert De Niro; former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper via CNN; Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; billionaire investor and Democratic supporter Tom Steyer; and CNN. Police said Waters, Biden and Steyer were each sent two packages.

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A number of the mailings had a return address for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and the device sent to Holder ended up there because it listed an incorrect address for him in Washington, D.C.

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None of the devices exploded and it's not clear if they were real bombs, though Wray said each included "energetic material," which can potentially explode under the right combination of heat, shock or friction.

Sayoc appeared in court Nov. 6, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Lehrburger ordered he be held without bail. Prosecutors said he was too dangerous to be released on bail and Sayoc's attorneys said they would not contest the argument.

Sayoc, who is originally from New York but living in Florida at the time of his arrest, was known to be a vocal Trump supporter who decorated his van with stickers in support of the president.

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Family members described him as mentally ill. An attorney who deposed him in 2014 said he would make up outlandish claims, such as being a financial wizard and a professional soccer player.

Prosecutors said a search of Sayoc's laptop showed he searched the Internet for addresses of a number of the package recipients. In each case, the phrase "and family" or "wife and kids" was added to the Internet search.

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Prosecutors also said Sayoc's cellphone contained photographs of several homes belonging to persons on the target list. He allegedly had a list of 100 potential targets in his van.

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