Search warrant yields more details in Zebulon human trafficking case

06/12/2014 3:26 PM

06/13/2014 6:08 AM

A Zebulon man charged with strangling and sexually assaulting a German woman in a warehouse he rents admitted to police that he strangled her and hit her with a bottle, according to a search warrant made public Thursday.

In the warrant, police charge that Robert E. Whiteside had a “secret room” inside the warehouse that he had transformed into a bedroom where he kept multiple firearms and was haranguing the woman to get money from her estranged husband.

Whiteside, 45, of 511 Mack Todd Road in Zebulon, was arrested Monday and charged with sexual servitude and two counts of assault by strangulation. On Wednesday, Zebulon police also charged Whiteside with one felony count of second-degree sexual offense.

During his first appearance in Wake County District Court this week, Whiteside said charges that he held the woman for nearly a week against her will while sexually and physically assaulting her was “all a big misunderstanding.”

Zebulon police say they learned about the woman Monday morning when a man living in Germany forwarded to them an email sent to him by his wife. The email stated that the man’s wife was being held against her will in Zebulon, according to the search warrant.

The email also stated that Whiteside had taken all of the woman’s money.

Police used an online language translation of the email, which was written in German, police said.

Police contacted Whiteside by phone and then visited him at the warehouse on Mack Todd Road, near U.S. Business 64, where he was apparently living, according to the search warrant. Whiteside consented to a search of the warehouse, during which a Zebulon detective questioned a woman inside the building.

The detective learned that Whiteside and the woman met online, after she responded to an advertisement he had posted seeking a companion or wife. Whiteside, she said, paid for her travel expenses to the United States, but when she arrived at his Zebulon warehouse, he took all of her money.

The woman told the detective she was unable to leave the country and that Whiteside was requesting more money from her estranged husband, according to the search warrant. She also said Whiteside had strangled her, held her down and hit her in the head with a glass water bottle, according to the warrant.

Investigators found a hidden room in the warehouse disguised as a closet wall. The room was large enough to hold a full-size bed, night stands and dressers containing clothing, according to the search warrant.

Police also found “multiple loaded firearms located inside the room including a revolver in the night stand,” according to the warrant.

Police seized dozens of items during their search of the warehouse, including airline receipts, computers and related software, cellphones, sex toys, condoms, a length of rope, a purple whip, firearms and an Audubon Birds of America book, according to the search warrant.

At his first court appearance Monday, Whiteside told District Court Judge Vince Rozier he was “not a troublemaker.”

“All I do is work. I own my own business. I pay my bills,” he said.

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