Robbery spree allegedly started in North Carolina

Sexy Stuf suspects also charged in Pigeon Forge incident
Nov. 20, 2013 @ 11:16 PM

The gunman charged with robbing a local lingerie and adult novelty shop was allegedly on a spree that started Sunday at a gas station in Asheville, N.C. It continued Monday, when he robbed a woman in the parking lot of the Pigeon Forge Food City, then robbed the adult store and led police on a brief chase along with three other people.

Mark Rhodes, 41, is now facing two charges of aggravated robbery in Sevier County as well as a charge of violation of parole from North Carolina. North Carolina records indicate he was convicted of armed robbery there in November 2006 and had been released from prison May 24. He absconded from parole sometime after that. Rhodes and the other three suspects arrested along with him are all from Asheville, N.C., according to police records.

Rhodes’ brushes with the law in North Carolina date back as far as at least 1989, when he was convicted of breaking and entering into a vehicle. Most of his earlier charges involve breaking and entering, forgery or possession of drugs.

A warrant against one of his codefendants, 25-year-old Blaine Rice, indicates Rhodes also robbed a Citgo gas station in Asheville Sunday. The four apparently came to Tennessee after that. “(Rice) stated he learned of the North Carolina robbery while in Newport (Sunday),” the warrant states.

Monday morning, they went to the Food City in Pigeon Forge, where Rhodes robbed a store employee while she sat outside in her car. “(The victim) was inside her vehicle with the window rolled down halfway, reading a book in the Food City parking lot,” according to the warrant against Rhodes for that crime. “A white male approached her and asked her for change. (She) reached for her wallet and the white male pointed a black gun at her face and told her to give him the wallet.”

He then asked for her PIN number for her debit cards, according to the warrant.

The group drove around the area and used her cards, with police in pursuit.

“We started to get the information, and we knew they were heading in the direction of Sevierville, but it seemed like we were 20 minutes behind them everywhere we went,” Chief Jack Baldwin said.

They had been in contact with Sevierville Police when an employee at the Sexy Stuf shop on Highway 66 reported the store had been robbed by two men, and gave a description of the getaway car. Police attempted to stop a car matching that description a short time later, but the driver tried to flee and was eventually stopped on Interstate 40 at the Knox County line.

After he was apprehended inside the vehicle, Rhodes admitted to robbing the Food City employee and the store with an Airsoft pellet gun made to look like a handgun, according to the warrants.

He was charged with being a fugitive from justice and with two counts of aggravated robbery, and was being held at the Sevier County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond.

Rice, who allegedly entered the store with Rhodes and was allegedly in the car when he robbed the Food City employee, was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery. He was being held in lieu of $500,000 bond.

Natasha Robinson, 26, was allegedly driving the car during both local robberies and the chase. She was charged with evading arrest and two counts of aggravated robbery, and was being held in lieu of $500,000 bond.

Christy Ann Wilson, 38, was a passenger in the car. She was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery; the warrants note she had opportunities to leave after she learned what Rhodes was doing and failed to do so. She was being held in lieu of $500,000 bond.

jfarrell@themountainpress.com