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Florida man pleads not guilty in political pipe bombs case

Cesar Sayoc

Cesar Sayoc Credit: AP

Cesar Altieri Sayoc pleaded not guilty Thursday afternoon in a federal court in Manhattan to a 30-count indictment alleging he sent at least 16 pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and a media organization in what a top federal prosecutor called a "reign of terror." 

U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff set a trial date of July 15, 2019 after federal prosecutors asked for more time to turn over evidence, specifically forensic analysis, to the defense. And Sayoc's attorneys pressed for a delay in order to mount their own investigation and also cited scheduling issues. A bail application for Sayoc, who has been held without bond since his Oct. 26 arrest in Plantation, Florida, was not discussed. 

Sayoc, 56, of Aventura, Florida, faces charges of using a weapon of mass destruction, interstate transportation of an explosive, conveying a threat in interstate commerce, unlawful use of mails, carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony and using and carrying a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence. He faces up to life imprisonment. 

Sayoc, without handcuffs or shackles, walked into the U.S. District Court, Southern District courtroom Thursday afternoon wearing blue scrubs. He spoke quietly with his attorneys but did not address the judge. 

He was arrested less than five days after the first device was found Oct. 22. Sayoc, according to authorities, sent at least 16 improvised explosive devices through the mail to officials including former President Barack Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, billionaire philanthropist and Democratic donor George Soros and to the midtown Manhattan offices of the 24-hour news channel CNN.

Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement called Sayoc's alleged conduct a "reign of terror." 

"Sayoc’s alleged conduct put numerous lives at risk. It was also an assault on a nation that values the rule of law, a free press, and tolerance of differences without rancor or resort to violence," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Emil Bove said he expects to complete discovery by Dec. 13, but would need more time for expert discovery, citing "an ongoing canvass of surveillance video, most from the post office" and forensic reports from experts on the chemistry of explosive devices, DNA and fingerprints. The judge said the expert discovery would be due by Jan. 31, but said he expected "full expert reports, not just a couple of paragraphs from the government." 

Sarah Baumgartel, a federal public defender assigned to Sayoc, cited the complicated nature of the case, and the possibility of out-of-state travel in needing more time. 

"I think there's some investigation to be done down in Florida," Baumgartel told the judge. She added that she needed to prepare for "any possibility for a pre-trial disposition," referencing a possible plea deal that would negate a trial.

Rakoff set the next court date in the case for Feb. 7 at 3:30 p.m. 

Authorities allege they have matched DNA found on 10 of the devices to a sample on file from Sayoc. Additionally, authorities say latent fingerprints found on two of the packages match Sayoc's prints, according to charging documents. None of the bombs detonated, and no injuries were reported.

The FBI seized a laptop from Sayoc’s van in connection with the arrest that contained lists of physical addresses that match many of the labels on the envelopes that Sayoc allegedly mailed, authorities say. Files on his computer contained copies of an address for "Debbie W. Schultz" in Sunrise, Florida, that were close to what was used as a return address on the packages containing the IED's, except for typographical errors, according to prosecutors. 

The FBI is also conducting forensic analysis on a cellphone Sayoc had at the time of his arrest, which shows the following internet searches in the July, September and October: "hilary Clinton hime address" and "address for barack Obama," as well as searches for the addresses of California Sen. Kamala Harris, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and others to whom packages were sent. 

Sayoc’s phone also contained photographs of some of the those targeted, according to authorities. 

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