Accused pro-Trump mail bomber Cesar Sayoc sobbed as he pleaded guilty Thursday in Manhattan federal court to mailing a series of explosive packages last year to former President Barack Obama and other prominent Democrats and political targets.
Under his plea agreement, Sayoc, 57, of Aventura, Florida, does not face a mandatory life sentence, but U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff could still sentence the former Chippendales dancer to life based on his plea to 65 felony counts including use of a weapon of mass destruction and making threats.
Sayoc, shackled and wearing a blue prison jumpsuit with his hair pulled into a small bun, choked up, nearly in tears, and said he was sorry as he told Rakoff in a raspy voice that he knew there was a risk his pipe bombs would explode, but he didn’t design them to injure people.
“I made devices designed to look like pipe bombs and sent them in the U.S. mail,” he said. “I sent all of the 16 devices with the intent to threaten and intimidate people, and with the intent to injure property.”
Sayoc then went silent and began sobbing, barely audible as he delivered the final line of his prepared remarks. “I know that these actions were wrong and I am extremely sorry,” he said.
In a statement, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the plea marked the final act of a crisis that gripped the country last fall as bomb after bomb kept popping up at addresses and post offices nationwide, before Sayoc's apprehension.
“Cesar Sayoc rained terror across the country, sending high-ranking officials and former elected leaders explosive packages,” Berman said. “Thankfully, no one was hurt by these dangerous devices, but his actions left an air of fear and divisiveness in their wake.”
Brooklyn-born Sayoc, who praised President Donald Trump enthusiastically on social media and drove a van decorated with pro-Trump bumper stickers, has been in custody since he was charged in October with sending bombs to figures ranging from Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, to liberal donor George Soros and actor Robert De Niro.
In his plea, he included those names and listed his other targets — ex-CIA director John Brennan and ex-NSA director James Clapper, both sharp Trump critics; former Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Maxine Waters, Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, financier Tom Steyer, and CNN.
He noted that he put pictures of the targets with “red Xs over their faces” in each package, and described how he made his bombs.
“The devices consisted of a plastic pipe with a digital alarm clock and wires attached to it,” he said. “Inside the plastic pipe was powder from fireworks, fertilizer, pool shock and some glass fragments.” Pool shock is a chlorine-based treatment for swimming pools.
The government has said the devices were packed in bubble-wrap-lined manila envelopes mailed with American flag stamps, had return addresses in the name of Debbie Wasserman Schultz — a Democratic party leader from Florida — and were mailed to home and office addresses.
Rakoff accepted the plea only after a back-and-forth with prosecutor Emil Bove, who asked the judge to make sure Sayoc’s confession satisfied the requirements that he admit an intent to use the devices as weapons, and that they were capable of killing or injuring.
Bove didn’t say if the government believes they would have exploded if opened. Sayoc, asked by the judge if he “intended that they would explode,” said no but admitted he was “aware of the risk that it would explode” and injure people.
Sayoc was captured last year after, officials said, they found a fingerprint on one device. His laptop had evidence of searches and addresses relating to the targets of his campaign.
The 65 charges Sayoc pleaded guilty to included 16 counts of using a weapon of mass destruction, interstate transportation of an explosive, conveying a threat, and illegal mailing of explosives with intent to injure, along with one count and carrying an explosive during a felony.
Rakoff set his sentencing for Sept. 12.