MAYS LANDING — An alleged serial rapist has been attacking women for more than a year and left behind DNA evidence in at least one case, according to information revealed during a public bail hearing Thursday.
Hiten Patel, 34, of Egg Harbor Township, will remain jailed on $1 million full cash bail for charges related to five separate attacks: three rapes and two attempted aggravated sexual assaults. At least three others could soon be added, Assistant Prosecutor John Flammer told Superior Court Judge Max Baker.
“Mr. Patel steadfastly maintains his innocence,” defense attorney Joseph Levin said outside the courtroom. “(He) believes that the Atlantic City Police Department is attempting to clear its unsolved sexual assaults by charging him.”
Those assaults date to at least April 5, 2011, when Patel allegedly used a toy gun to force a woman to have sex with him in a remote Atlantic City location. Patel was arrested at that time but charged only with possession of a fake firearm. Neither the state nor Levin would comment on that case, but courthouse records show it was sent down to municipal court, and Patel was not convicted.
In fact, he has no prior record, and even had high security clearance with the Federal Aviation Administration as a computer analyst, Levin said in court. The FAA has confirmed that Patel was employed by a contracting company that does business at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township. He did not have a U.S. government security clearance, according to the FAA, just a basic security check that allowed him to access only his general work area at the center.
While that clearance has been revoked, he apparently used the identification to lure at least one victim into his van, Flammer told the judge Thursday.
Patel was already under surveillance by the Atlantic City Police Department and the FBI when he picked up a 21-year-old woman from Pennsauken, Camden County, on Aug. 2, telling her he was a detective. Around his neck were his FAA credentials, Flammer said. She willingly got into the car, and the pair then drove to a spot near the Atlantic City Aquarium at Gardner’s Basin, where Patel is accused of putting a gun to the woman’s head, ordering her to remove her underwear and raping her.
He choked her during the assault and did not wear a condom, Flammer said.
No details were released about the surveillance, but Flammer said officers saw the woman running from the van. Patel fled, but was apprehended a short time later and the van was towed from the scene, according to previously released information.
When police searched the van, they found a toy gun and napkins, which the victim said were used to clean up after the attack. What was found on the napkins has not been released, although DNA testing usually takes several weeks if not months.
On June 27, an Atlantic City man called police saying a woman showed up at his door naked and crying, saying she was almost raped, Flammer said. He did not say where the home was, just that the woman fled to the first house she saw.
The 31-year-old Ventnor woman told police she was threatened and was able to escape the man’s vehicle but that he tore off her dress in the process. She called police again July 26, after spotting the same man, but he could not be found, Flammer said.
Following Patel’s arrest, a 27-year-old woman came forward, saying she had also been raped this summer, police announced this week. Patel was charged with attempted aggravated assault in a fifth attack Thursday.
Levin told the judge that Patel is a family man with “an excellent reputation in the community” that he said was proved by the 22 family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers who attended the hearing in support. Levin had each person stand as he introduced them to the judge.
But Baker said the support system could easily change to a network that might aid an escape if Patel were released on house arrest, as Levin requested. He noted that the evidence in the case seems strong and Patel would face significant prison time if convicted. The charges, Baker said, “seem to be multiplying as we speak.”
Charges against Patel include at least three counts each of aggravated sexual assault and impersonating a police officer, and two counts of attempted aggravated sexual assault, along with kidnapping, criminal restraint and weapons offenses.
There are at least three other similar assaults reported prior to Patel’s arrest that police believe may be linked to him, Flammer told the judge.
Other victims may not have come forward because Patel allegedly targeted prostitutes, police have said. Women who may have been victims are urged to call police, regardless of their circumstances.
The investigation is being led by Detective Al Herbert. The FBI is also assisting.
Anyone with information about the attacks or who may have been a victim is asked to call the Atlantic City 609-347-5766. Information may also be reported to Crime Stoppers at 609-652-1234 or through the website at www.crimestoppersatlantic.com.
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