(TNS) — Federal authorities on Friday charged a Florida man with five federal crimes in connection with the spate of suspicious, potentially explosive devices sent to prominent critics of President Trump in recent days.

The man, Cesar Sayoc Jr., 56, was taken into custody by an FBI SWAT team near State Road 7 in Plantation, Fla., about 40 miles north of Miami, . Local television stations showed images of a white van near an AutoZone store being covered with a blue plastic tarp and towed away by law enforcement.

Sayoc is charged with crimes including interstate transportation of an explosive and threatening a former president. He could face a maximum sentence of up to 58 years in prison, Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions said at a news conference announcing the charges.

"This is a law and order administration. We will not tolerate such lawlessness, especially not political violence," Sessions said.

The string of suspicious packages found across the country this week created a broad sense of panic and renewed concerns that the political culture had become too toxic.

"He appears to be a partisan, but that will be determined by the facts as the case goes forward," Sessions said, declining to ascribe a specific motive. Sayoc's van was "covered with images," including some critical of CNN, according to the criminal complaint filed against him. Widely circulated photographs of what appeared to be the same van showed several images of Trump and one of Hillary Clinton targeted in cross hairs.

According to the complaint, Sayoc also posted statements on social media critical of President Obama and George Soros, the financier and supporter of liberal causes. Clinton, Obama and Soros were all among those to whom Sayoc allegedly sent his explosives.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said it was "too early to be discussing motivation."

Wray said Sayoc had been initially identified using a fingerprint that was discovered on one of the envelopes mailed to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Investigators then linked two DNA samples taken from the explosive devices sent to Obama and Waters to a sample taken from Sayoc in connection with an earlier arrest in Florida, Wray said.

"These are not hoax devices," Wray said, adding that more of the packages may still be in the mail.

The devices have so far failed to detonate, leading some to believe they may not have been intended to inflict harm. Wray not only contradicted that theory but implicitly pushed back against Trump, who used scare quotes around the word "bomb" in a tweet about the attacks on Friday that characterized them as a political distraction.

Sayoc, who has a prior arrest for making a threat with an explosive, is not a Florida native but lives in Aventura in northern Miami-Dade County, according to the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Public records reveal an arrest record that includes 20 criminal charges, the latest related to a 2015 theft. He has also been charged with battery and possession and distribution of illegal drugs, and filed for personal bankruptcy in 2012, according to public records. He was arrested in 2002 for making a threat to discharge a destructive device.

Trump was briefed on the arrest by the FBI and Justice Department, according to White House spokesman Hogan Gidley. White House officials would not say whether Trump's briefing came before or after the president fired off a tweet about the case that downplayed the seriousness of the case and came close to endorsing conservative claims of a "false flag" operation.

"Republicans are doing so well in early voting, and at the polls, and now this 'Bomb' stuff happens and the momentum greatly slows -- news not talking politics," Trump tweeted. "Very unfortunate, what is going on."

Less than two hours later, Trump celebrated the arrest during an event with young African American leaders at the White House.

"These terrorizing acts are despicable and have no place in our country," Trump said, promising that the justice system will be tough on the perpetrator. "We will prosecute them -- him, her, whoever it may be -- to the fullest extent of the law."

In his 2012 bankruptcy filing, Sayoc said he was unmarried, lived with his mother and owned no furniture; his vehicle was a 2001 Chevy Tahoe with 285,000 miles on it. He reported collecting unemployment support in 2009 and 2010. For at least a year, he said he worked as a store manager earning $13,000 a year for Hassanco Investment Inc., in Hollywood, Fla.

The law office for the attorney who represented him in the bankruptcy case, Christian Olson, declined to comment.

In December 2013, Sayoc was charged with felony grand theft and battery for a Nov. 28, 2013, incident. He pleaded no contest in May 2014 and was placed on a year's probation. He violated the terms of his probation in January 2015 and was rearrested, court records show. He pleaded no contest in 2015 to petty theft and was placed on another year of probation.

Earlier Friday, the FBI found two more packages with suspicious devices -- sent to Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and to former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

Another suspicious package sent to the Sacramento office of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was also being examined, but it was unclear if the package was related to the others, according to a law enforcement official.

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The FBI confirmed the package to Booker on its social media account, saying it was recovered at a U.S. Postal Service facility in Florida and was similar in appearance to others directed toward prominent figures, including Obama, Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, former Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., Soros, actor Robert De Niro and Waters.

New York City police said the Clapper package -- sent care of CNN's New York office, like a similar package directed toward former CIA Director John Brennan earlier in the week -- was discovered at a mail facility in Manhattan, forcing the temporary evacuation of residents, a post office and a nearby educational facility.

"This is definitely domestic terrorism. No question about it in my mind," Clapper told CNN.

Clapper and Booker, like the other targets, have clashed publicly with Trump. But even as the targets share commonalities, authorities have still not established a motive or named a suspect.

Trump briefly called for unity in the face of the attacks, but has since lashed out at his critics, saying he has been unfairly blamed.

Many Trump critics and others have blamed the president, at least in part, for coarsening American politics and creating an angrier climate. But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and Trump ally, said on Twitter that the charge was unfair, noting that a gunman who attacked a congressional baseball practice last year was a liberal supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"I didn't blame Bernie Sanders when a Bernie supporter shot Congressman Steve Scalise. And I'm not going to blame President @realDonaldTrump for this nut job," Graham wrote.

Sanders, however, lacks both Trump's platform and his propensity for referring to his political opponents as enemies.

Law enforcement officials have said at least some of the packages were sent from South Florida. They are marked with the return address of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat who previously led the Democratic National Committee.

Trump previously called Clapper the "world's dumbest former intelligence head, who has the problem of lying a lot."

Trump has also accused Clapper, who served in the Obama administration, of lying to Congress.

Booker, a Democrat believed to have presidential ambitions, is a frequent target of Trump in his political rallies.

Wasserman Schultz, speaking to reporters in South Florida on Friday, called the perpetrator "sinister," "evil" and "horrific."

"I really don't know," she said, when asked why her return address was used. She said the moment pointed to the need for political comity. "None of us should be treating our opponents like the enemy."

 

Times staff writers Sarah D. Wire in Washington and Matt Pearce in Los Angeles contributed to this report.