A Zebulon man charged with sexually and physically assaulting a German woman for nearly a week while holding her against her will told a judge Tuesday that it is “all a big misunderstanding.”
“I’m not a troublemaker,” Robert E. Whiteside, 45, of 511 Mack Todd Road in Zebulon, told Wake County District Court Judge Vince Rozier. “All I do is work. I own my own business. I pay my bills. I want to find an attorney. If I’m in jail I can’t do anything.”
State records show that Whiteside is the president of Rouleau Enterprises Inc., which specializes in refinishing furniture.
Zebulon police have charged him with sexual servitude involving an adult victim (human trafficking) and two counts of assault by strangulation. Police say more charges may follow.
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Wake prosecutor Boz Zellinger told the judge that Whiteside’s bail should remain at $250,000 because of the severity of the charges and because he travels extensively.
“We are also trying to determine if this has happened before,” Zellinger told the court.
Rozier lowered Whiteside’s bail to $90,000.
If Whiteside posts bond and is released from custody at the Wake County Jail, Rozier ordered the court to place him under electronic house arrest and the judge forbid him from traveling outside the state until his next court date in July.
Zebulon police said Tuesday that an email message sent to the woman’s estranged husband in Germany helped them locate the Zebulon warehouse where she was held captive for four days, strangled and sexually assaulted.
Whiteside agreed to meet Zebulon detectives at the warehouse at 511 Mack Todd Road on Monday. The victim, a 34-year-old German citizen who was born in Russia, was present in his vehicle when he arrived.
“Since she’s been here in the United States, he was keeping her within arm’s length of him at all times,” Zebulon police Chief Tim Hayworth said at a news conference Tuesday.
An arrest warrant claims Whiteside “did knowingly maintain (the victim) in sexual servitude by the use of intimidation and use of physical force to procure sexual favors of a period of four days.” It also alleges he feloniously inflicted serious injury to the victim, “bruising on the neck by strangulation wrapping both hands around the throat.”
Police say Whiteside and the victim met online, after she responded to an advertisement he had posted seeking a companion or wife.
“I think she probably came here willingly with the idea that she’s coming to America and she’s met this nice guy on the Internet, and then when she got here things were not as rosy as depicted online,” Hayworth said.
The victim was said to be in good health Tuesday.
Tracking down suspect
Hayworth said Whiteside took away the woman’s financial and communication resources but that she managed to access a computer in the warehouse and email her husband in Germany, who in turn called Zebulon police about 8 a.m. Monday.
The email was short, according to police. The victim mentioned needing money and hinted that she was being held against her will, police said. It was enough to alert her husband that she was in danger.
“We began to follow up on ... partial names, names that we have of potential suspects and addresses, phone numbers, IP addresses,” Hayworth said. “The email gave us some information that kind of pointed us not particularly at that building, but in that vicinity where we were able to use it to track down our suspect.”
The warehouse is the smaller of several buildings on the property and is not visible from the road.
State records show that Whiteside is a native of Virginia who has lived in Roanoke Rapids, Gaston, Weldon and Raleigh in North Carolina, as well as in Illinois. He has a 22-page criminal history of mainly traffic charges, including driving while license revoked, expired registration and speeding, along with careless and reckless driving. He also has a previous charge for communicating threats, records show.
Rozier told Whiteside that if he is convicted of the sexual servitude charge he could spend a maximum of nearly five years in prison. He could spend an additional three years and four months behind bars for each count of assault by strangulation.
Police found computers, guns and a hidden room upon searching the warehouse, which Whiteside rents.
News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.