WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. —The night before an army of law enforcement swooped in and charged him with being a serial mail bomber, Cesar Sayoc Jr. was in his element, working as a DJ in one of South Florida’s strip joints.
Sayoc had been manning the door and spinning tunes at Ultra, a “boutique gentlemen’s club” with decidedly mixed online reviews, for the last two months. Thursday was his day off, but he was filling in for another DJ, Scott Meigs.
Meigs, who has worked the club circuit with Sayoc for nearly 20 years, told The Daily Beast that he’d noticed his old pal had become obsessed with politics as the midterms approached.
“He was making sure everybody would go out and vote in the election,” Meigs said. “I thought he was just passionate about his cause.
“He said, ‘Vote Republican. If you vote Democratic, everything is going to go to hell,’” Meigs recalled. “I never thought he would go this far.”
By “this far,” Meigs meant the allegation that Sayoc, 56, had handcrafted pipe bombs out of PVC tubing, black powder and shrapnel, placed them in padded envelopes and then mailed them to at least 13 prominent Democrats and Trump critics, including George Soros, former President Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.
The interception of the bombs, some containing photos of the targets emblazoned with chilling red Xs, unfolded over the course of the week. Three were found within hours of Sayoc’s arrest by investigators who said they had tracked him through fingerprints on a package.
Almost immediately after his arrest, a bizarre portrait of the suspect began to emerge.
He was an ex-stripper with a lengthy arrest record, a muscle-bound gym rat once busted for possession of steroids. He falsely claimed to be a member of the Seminole tribe and spouted what an ex-boss described as white supremacist views. His father abandoned him as a child and his mother thought he needed psychological help.
“He was lost. He was looking for anything. And he found a father in Trump,” Ron Lowy, an attorney for the suspect’s family, told CNN.
“He didn’t react like a normal individual,” said Lowy, adding that Sayoc thought and lived like a teenager. “He was like a 14-year-old in an adult’s body… He wasn’t working on all cylinders.”
The attorney said Sayoc lived out of his van at times. At the Shoppes at the Waterway in Aventura, a secluded strip mall a few miles from his mother’s apartment, his van was a fixture for weeks late last year—the right-wing stickers covering the windows drawing attention.
“He was parking there for a long time, one month, maybe two,” said Wilfred Ayala, an engineer at the shopping plaza’s marina.
Interviews suggest Sayoc struggled to make a living, with records indicating he couldn’t make a go of two businesses, a dry cleaners and a catering company, and went into bankruptcy in 2012. He cobbled together jobs, promoting a male revue on a Facebook page titled “Chippen Fellas,” and selling Trump-brand suits and other clothing online at deep discounts.
For about a year ending in January, he did deliveries for New River Pizza and Fresh Kitchen in Fort Lauderdale. The general manager noticed two things about him: He was incredibly dependable and hard-working; and he was a “completely crazy” racist.
“He had such divisive political views, it was scary,” Debra Gureghian told The Daily Beast. “He was anti-gay, anti-black, anti-Jews.”
Gureghian, who said Sayoc used to tell her she was going to hell because she’s a lesbian, said even though the delivery man was often angry, he didn’t seem dangerous.
“I’m hearing things like, ‘Why didn’t you fire him?’” she said. “But I never felt he would hurt me.”
And her customers “loved him,” she said. “He was always reliable, never late. I mean, he was a great employee. I wish I had more like him.”
By the time Sayoc started working at New River, he had racked up a string of arrests, starting with a 1991 bust for grand theft. Public records show that over the years he was also charged with falsifying his age on his driver’s license (apparently to make himself seem younger), driving with a suspended license, and possession of anabolic steroids.
In 2002, he was arrested for making what authorities said was a bomb threat against the power company. The family lawyer said he got probation for angrily blurting out that he could “blow up” the utility after his electricity was shut off, and that he never had any intention of bombing anyone.
But 16 years later, authorities say, the threat was very real. Though crudely made, the devices mailed to members of Congress Maxine Waters, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris were not hoaxes, officials emphasized.
At Ultra in West Palm Beach, Meigs wondered if Sayoc might have been constructing the devices right under the noses of the pole dancers and their gawkers. He would haul two big duffel bags to the DJ booth and frequently forget to change the music.
“He was going back and forth from the van when he was working. He was going back every 15 minutes,” Meigs said. “He had some kind of crockpot up here. He was cooking something.”
Ultra’s manager, Stacy Saccal, said she was stunned by news of Sayoc’s arrest.
“He was a super-nice guy,” she said. “The customers loved him. He would play jokes and pranks on people. He made us laugh all the time.”
Now, though, she sees him in a different light.
“He’s a terrorist,” she said. “We want to take him down.”