(CNN) — A man accused of kidnapping a woman and holding her in a cinder block “dungeon” in his Oregon home has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping and transportation with intent to engage in sexual activity, court documents show.
Negasi Zuberi, 29, was ordered during a hearing Monday to remain in custody until his trial, which is scheduled for October 17, the documents show.
Zuberi was taken into federal custody after a woman escaped from his Klamath Falls home last month, according to a news release from the FBI field office in Portland. The woman was kidnapped from Seattle and sexually assaulted before being placed in a “makeshift cell” in Zuberi’s garage, investigators said.
Following Zuberi’s arrest, the FBI said it was looking for additional victims in other states.
Zuberi has lived in at least 10 states since 2016 and has been linked to violent assaults in at least four, according to the FBI. Investigators have reason to believe there could be several other victims, the agency said.
Zuberi was indicted by a federal grand jury in Oregon, court documents filed earlier this month show.
Zuberi’s attorney, Heather Fraley, told CNN at the time of the indictment that she had no comment.
Investigators detail woman’s harrowing escape
On July 15, Zuberi traveled from his home in Klamath Falls to Seattle where he posed as an undercover police officer to solicit the services of a prostitute, according to the FBI’s news release. The victim said Zuberi pointed a Taser at her, placed her in handcuffs and leg irons and then put her in the back seat of his car, the FBI said.
“Zuberi told the victim she was under arrest,” the Klamath Falls Police Department said in a news release. “The victim reported Zuberi had a firearm, police patches, a taser, and other law enforcement equipment.”
He then drove back to his Klamath Falls home – more than 450 miles away – stopping on the way to sexually assault her, the victim told detectives, according to the news release.
At one point during the drive, the woman noticed a map application on the suspect’s cell phone that indicated they were 2 hours and 4 minutes away from the set destination, according to an affidavit reviewed by CNN. The woman “knew at that point that Zuberi was not a police officer and that she was being kidnapped,” the affidavit says.
Upon arriving at the home, he placed the woman in “a makeshift cell he had constructed in his garage” made of cinder blocks and a metal door that was locked from the outside and left her there, the FBI said. The bureau called the cell “a dungeon.”
The woman told authorities she repeatedly banged on the door until she was able to break her way out of the cell, the news release said.
“The victim said she knew Zuberi would kill her if she stayed in the room,” police said. “The victim began punching the security screen door. The victim was able to break the welds on the screen door and pull the metal screen material down. The victim then climbed through a small opening in the door and escaped.”
The woman flagged down a motorist who called 911, according to the FBI. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where detectives responded to a report of a rape victim, according to Klamath Falls police.
Police later located “blood on the wooden fence” the woman had climbed over during her escape, the affidavit says. It was not immediately clear how long the woman was left in the cell before she escaped.
Detectives tracked down Zuberi using cell phone technology a few hours later in Reno, Nevada, where he was arrested after a standoff, police said. Zuberi was taken into custody at a Walmart parking lot, the affidavit said.
“Due to the real possibility this was not Zuberi’s first crime of this nature the FBI was requested,” police said.
Police obtained a search warrant on July 16 and located the makeshift cell and other items, including the victim’s purse in Zuberi’s garage, according to the affidavit.
Klamath Falls Mayor Carol Westfall told the local newspaper Herald and News that she and her husband own the home where Zuberi allegedly held the woman. Westfall told the paper they rented the home to Zuberi and his two children six months ago, but noted the lease did not mention a wife or any roommates.
“We had service people going there, and he would invite us in,” Westfall said. Commenting on Zuberi’s alleged acts, she said, “It was incredibly brazen.”
The mayor added: “He came into this town, but it’s over for him.”
Suspect targeted sex workers and roommates, FBI says
“We are fortunate that this brave woman escaped and alerted authorities,” Special Agent in Charge Stephanie Shark said in the news release. “While she may have helped protect future victims, sadly we have now linked Zuberi to several violent assaults in at least four states and we believe there may be many more.”
The FBI said it believes Zuberi targeted sex workers or roommates in California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Alabama and Nevada between August 2016 and July 2023.
Authorities did not detail how they linked the suspect to other cases.
Zuberi – who also goes by the names Sakima, Justin Hyche and Justin Kouassi – is believed to have used various methods to “gain control of his victims,” including putting drugs in their drinks, posing as a police officer and soliciting the services of sex workers before “violently sexually assaulting them,” according to the FBI.
“Some of the encounters may have been filmed to make it appear as if the assault was consensual,” the FBI said. “The victims are threatened with retaliation if they notify the police.”
The bureau asked for the public’s help as it seeks more potential victims and additional information about Zuberi.
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