MAYS LANDING — Hiten Patel said he’s probably been with 200 prostitutes, but he insisted in court Monday he never raped anyone.

Patel is on trial in a string of sexual assaults in Atlantic City during the summer of 2012. Seven women have testified, claiming he started out as a seemingly nice guy, until he would excuse himself to go to the bathroom and return to the vehicle with a different demeanor.

Each woman claimed he pulled a silver handgun and demanded sex.

But the Egg Harbor Township man testified Monday that his addiction to prostitutes was sometimes dangerous, so — for protection — he taped a socket to a toy gun that he would show if he needed to.

Three of his alleged victims saw the “gun,” he testified. One of them came across it while preparing to have sex.

“I said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s a toy,’” he said of one of the women, who has been publicly identified as T.D.

She even held it, he said.

Patel already was under surveillance in another attack when T.D. got in his van Aug. 2, 2012. And when detectives approached the woman after Patel dropped her off, she told them she had been raped at gunpoint while being choked.

Patel said T.D. was fine when she left his car, but on cross-examination he agreed that in his statement to detectives, he said she was “uncomfortable.”

“You seem like a nice guy,” FBI Agent Dan Garrabrant told Patel during that interview, Assistant Prosecutor John Flammer said during cross examination.

Flammer then asked if Patel replied, “I’m not that nice.”

“I said that because when I got arrested ...” Patel began, but Flammer said to just answer yes or no.

Later, on more questioning from his attorney, Patel said he gave that reply because he was upset at his treatment by the officers who “were calling me a rapist.”

The first alleged victim to come forward was M.D. She was interviewed by police after she knocked on the door of a Chelsea Heights resident naked, saying a man was after her.

She told police the man pulled a gun on her and grabbed her as she tried to flee, ripping off her dress.

But Patel said it was he who was the victim. He said he paid M.D. for sex, but when he was taking too long to get aroused in the back of his van, the woman got angry.

“Date’s over,” he said she told him. Naked, M.D. went to the front of the van, where her clothes were, he said.

As Patel pulled up his pants, he said he noticed his wallet was missing. He found M.D. in the front of the van, still naked, counting the money in his wallet.

He said he pulled out the toy gun to scare her, and she fled the vehicle without her clothes.

Patel later saw the woman when he tried to solicit her again. But while talking, they both made the connection, he said.

He claims she told him to meet her in a parking lot, but he went home instead. According to the charges and her testimony, she called police saying she had seen the man who attacked her. She gave a vehicle description, but it wasn’t located at that time.

Although he married in 2003, as the result of an arranged marriage in his native India, Patel said he was attracted to women of different races. So, he would ride Pacific Avenue, looking for prostitutes. Sometimes several times a week.

You knew the working women by how they would act, he testified. They would signal him, he would pull over and they would ask if he was a cop.

While some of the women said he claimed to be a detective, Patel said they would get in only after he told them he wasn’t a police officer.

As proof that neither he nor they were working undercover, they would touch one another’s private parts, he said.

Patel never reported the alleged robberies, saying he knew what he was doing was illegal.

“I knew what I did was wrong,” he testified. “I just couldn’t stop.”

Flammer pointed out Patel had lied to police, the FBI, work on his security clearance application, and to his family to hide his other life. Patel agreed.

Patel said he is sorry for what he put his family through.

He wiped his eyes while giving direct testimony to his attorney, James Leonard Jr. During a break before cross-examination, he cried as he left the courtroom with his family.

A dozen people — including Patel’s wife of 11 years — testified as character witnesses, agreeing he is honest, peaceful and law-abiding.

“He’s very peace-loving,” Bhavana Patel said of her husband. “He’s a very caring, supportive, tender human being.”

Closing arguments are scheduled for this morning before Superior Court Judge Bernard DeLury. Then the jury will be given instruction and begin deliberations.

Contact Lynda Cohen:

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