UNITED STATES NEWS

A man accused of locking a woman in a homemade cell had a handwritten plan and sketch, FBI says

Aug 2, 2023, 9:10 PM | Updated: Aug 3, 2023, 3:44 pm

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — He called it “Operation Take Over,” with a list that included a chilling reminder to go after women who wouldn’t be missed to avoid “any kind of an investigation,” according to the FBI.

Accompanying the bullet-point notes was a sketch of an apparent dungeon, to be built with cinder blocks, foam insulation and waterproof concrete.

Police found the legal pad with the notes in the southern Oregon home of a man who is now a suspect in sexual assaults around the country. Also in the home: a cinder block cell where police say the man, Negasi Zuberi, held a woman he had allegedly kidnapped in Seattle until she escaped by pounding at the door with bloodied hands.

Court and police records show Zuberi, 29, had been on law enforcement’s radar before — for offenses such as punching someone in the face and being a bad tenant whose landlord sought to evict him.

The FBI set up a website asking possible victims to come forward. The site says the FBI’s investigation has extended to states where Zuberi, who used several aliases, including Sakima, previously resided since August 2016. Those states could include California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Alabama and Nevada, the site says.

“Sakima has several different methods to gain control of his victims, including drugging their drinks, pretending to be a police officer, and soliciting the services of sex workers and then violently sexually assaulting them,” the FBI said on the website. “Some of the encounters may have been filmed to make it appear as if the assault was consensual.”

In the Seattle kidnapping on July 15, Zuberi solicited a woman for prostitution in an area known for sex work and afterward posed as an undercover police officer, the FBI said Wednesday. He handcuffed her, put her in leg irons and drove to Klamath Falls, Oregon, stopping to rape her on the way, according to court documents. After the woman escaped, Zuberi fled but was arrested by state police in Reno, Nevada, the next afternoon, the FBI said.

Zuberi is married and has a child, but the FBI did not say whether they were living in the Klamath Falls home and declined to answer questions about them.

Zuberi did not follow item No. 1 in the “Operation Take Over” plan that police found in the house — a reminder to leave his phone at home, authorities say. FBI Special Agent Travis Gluesenkamp said in an affidavit that GPS location data from Zuberi’s cellphone showed he was in Seattle on July 15. Both his phone and the woman’s phone also traveled from Seattle to Klamath Falls that day, Gluesenkamp said.

Zuberi is now behind bars in Nevada, waiting to be extradited to Oregon, where he is charged in federal court with interstate kidnapping and transporting an individual across state lines with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.

The case has rattled Klamath Falls, a town of 22,000 residents that is close to the California border and known for bird watching, golfing and fishing.

“I think a lot of people are shocked that something like this happened in our community,” Klamath Falls Police Capt. Rob Reynolds, who is working on the case, said Thursday.

Reynolds said authorities “have reason to believe that there’s prior victims from several states,” but would not disclose details, citing the ongoing investigation.

Since authorities announced the case against Zuberi in a news conference in Portland, Oregon, on Wednesday, some proceedings against him have emerged in court and municipal records.

Zuberi recently lived in Vancouver, Washington, where court records show the landlord sought to evict him.

Landlord Abishek Kandar said in a text message that Zuberi didn’t pay rent for six months, illegally sublet the home, bred puppies, damaged the property and threatened neighbors.

“He is a horrible person,” Kandar said. “He deserves to be in jail.”

According to court records in Colorado, a man with one of Zuberi’s alleged aliases, Justin Kouassi, was accused of punching a person in the face in Denver last year. An arrest warrant was issued for Kouassi, court records show, but Denver police do not have any record of Zuberi or anyone with one of his aliases being arrested. There is still an active warrant out for him.

Heather Fraley, a lawyer with the federal public defender’s office in Las Vegas who was listed as Zuberi’s attorney, declined to comment Wednesday. Zuberi’s public defender in Oregon, Devin Huseby, on Thursday also declined to comment.

Transferring Zuberi from Nevada can take several weeks, said Kevin Sonoff, a spokesperson for the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon. Zuberi could face up to life in prison if convicted of the federal charges in Oregon.

After arriving in Klamath Falls on July 15, Zuberi put the woman in the makeshift cell in the garage and said he was leaving to do paperwork, according to the criminal complaint.

The woman “briefly slept and awoke to the realization that she would likely die if she did not attempt to escape,” the complaint says.

She managed to break some of the door’s welded joints, creating a small opening that she climbed through, Reynolds said.

After the woman escaped and flagged down a passing motorist, police came to the house and found the handwritten notes, with plans for an apparent dungeon buried 100 feet (30 meters) below ground.

___

Johnson reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert in Denver, Colorado; Claire Rush in Portland, Oregon; and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed.

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A man accused of locking a woman in a homemade cell had a handwritten plan and sketch, FBI says