His most recent victim, prosecutors say, was a woman in her 30s talking with other people at a bar in Chevy Chase, Md.
Philip Kantor approached and offered to buy everyone a round and soon, prosecutors say, handed the woman a shot of dark-yellow liquor. Drinking it was her last memory for several hours before she allegedly woke up in Kantor’s apartment, where, according to prosecutors, the 46-year-old raped her three times while she was conscious but unable to move.
The case, which could be heard as soon as this fall in Montgomery County, would test the allegations. But a trial could be notable for prosecutors’ plan to try to use a new Maryland law that would enable them to bring in three more women as witnesses to recall similar alleged attacks by Kantor dating to 2007.
The law took effect in July but is only now being invoked in cases moving through courthouses.
After more than a decade of trying and amid the #MeToo movement, prosecutors and victims’ rights advocates convinced the Maryland legislature last year to make it permissible to bring additional alleged victims into rape trials to show a defendant has ignored other people’s lack of consent. Similar provisions are embedded in federal court trials, prosecutors say, and in more than 20 states.
Kantor and his attorneys maintain his innocence, and his lawyers say they would challenge prosecutors’ strategy, which would need a sign-off from a judge.
But to prosecutors, the multiple accounts to investigators from women who leveled similar accusations show “he is a demonstrated, serial rapist,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Frank Lazzaro said in court recently.
In two court hearings, prosecutors also have indicated Kantor used drugs to incapacitate at least some of the accusers. “The same exact conduct,” Lazzaro said, “alcohol- and drug-facilitated rapes.”
Available court records and recorded hearings in the case are silent on whether prosecutors have medical records or blood test results from the alleged victims to confirm whether drugs were involved.
There have been long-standing concerns in the criminal justice system over combining in one trial accounts of several alleged crimes that reportedly involved different victims at different times.
Defense attorneys say the approach shifts prosecutors’ burden from proof of each separate act to probability of a pattern and should be barred even in cases where an apparent habit can be shown.
“You don’t get to try a guy for four completely separate murders just because he used a gun each time,” said David Moyse, a longtime defense attorney in Montgomery County.
But absent the new law, rape prosecutors in Maryland say, they for too long have faced an obstacle that runs counter to just outcomes: the challenge of convincing jurors that the individual victim in a trial had not consented to the sex acts, even as prosecutors had a string of potential witnesses who were willing but unable to appear in court to testify about having faced the same alleged treatment by the defendant.
“This was common sense. All the law says is that other victims get to come in and say, ‘Yeah, he did the same thing to me, and he still is confused about what consent means,’ ” said Lisae C. Jordan, executive director and counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
There are limits on when the added witnesses could be used even under the new law.
For defendants charged with raping an adult, it is reserved for issues of consent. And judges get a chance to weigh whether potential testimony is credible before allowing it.
At the same time, though, judges have effectively been instructed to open things up, even to testimony from witnesses who may have never reported their alleged attacks to police.
“It’s wildly different than historic Maryland law,” Montgomery County Circuit Judge David Boynton said at a court hearing this year — in a sexual assault case unrelated to Kantor — while weighing a prosecutor’s request to allow testimony from another accuser.
For nearly four decades, as a judge and before that a prosecutor, Boynton had been conditioned that such testimony wasn’t allowed. “Now there’s a statute that says all these things that we’ve been prohibiting for 36 years are fine,” the judge said on the bench.
He eventually ruled the witness could testify, according to a recording of the hearing.
In the run-up to the passage of Maryland’s law, Jordan told legislators that the system had become “out of whack” in rape trials.
Countering that view was Ricardo Flores from the Maryland Public Defender’s Office, who warned against bypassing “the bedrock constitutional principle” of requiring proof for individual events. “Relevance has been flipped on its head,” he said.
The prosecution of Kantor, according to court filings, is shaping up to be another test. His attorneys have said they will challenge efforts to present testimony from multiple women within any single trial.
“How can a person fairly defend himself against decade-old accusations, especially when no timely and thorough investigation was conducted?” said Allen Wolf, one of the attorneys.
Under Maryland law before 2018, Maryland prosecutors could try to assemble a rape trial with multiple victims by arguing the accused had engaged in a “common scheme or plan.” But defense attorneys routinely got such proceedings broken into individual trials, where jurors would hear only from one victim, according to prosecutors and defense attorneys. The breakouts occurred because many judges determined that a common plan had to apply to the same victim, according to prosecutors.
In Montgomery County, though, prosecutors have signaled they will use the new law in cases of separated trials as a way to bring all the victims into each of the trials to testify.
“This gives us a new tool against serial sexual predators,” said Montgomery’s head prosecutor, John McCarthy.
The case against Kantor began in late January, after a 34-year-old woman exited a condominium building in Chevy Chase with scattered but terrifying memories of the night before, according to police and prosecutors.
As she would later tell detectives, she had arrived at a nearby bar at 9 p.m., dined and listened to a band. After the show, as she was speaking with others, a man in an orange jacket and blue baseball cap approached and offered to buy them drinks, detectives said in an affidavit filed in court. When she awoke in a bed hours later, not knowing where she was, she felt paralyzed as the man was assaulting her, according to the affidavit.
She told detectives she again passed out, awaking to what she thought were flashes, the affidavit recounts. At some later point, as detectives wrote of her account, when the woman was alert enough to try to look for her clothes, the man, who gave his name as Phil, helped her gather them and walked her from the condominium to outside, where she eventually got into a cab on her own and went home.
The woman then went to a hospital, where she underwent a sexual assault exam and was checked for swelling in her knees, the affidavit states.
She returned home after the hospital visit, police say, and began an Internet search on the little she knew about “Phil” — his first name and the street location of his condo building.
What appeared in her search, according to her statement to police, was Maryland’s official Sex Offender Registry and a page and picture for Philip Mauricio Kantor, who had been on the registry since 2005 for two convictions of third-degree sex offense that “involved criminal sexual conduct with an underage minor.”
The woman called the hospital, according to court records, and asked staff there to call the police.
Detectives interviewed her, reviewed surveillance video from the exterior of the building where Kantor lives, and got a search warrant to look through his apartment, according to police and prosecutors. They found the woman’s missing iPhone, on which there were photos of the woman allegedly taken by Kantor “in sexual positions, clearly unconscious,” Seth Zucker, a prosecutor, said in court.
News reports of the arrest drew attention and prompted additional women to contact police, according to court records. Their allegations involved incidents in 2007, 2010 and 2011.
The 2007 case had been investigated before. That year, a 24-year-old woman reported to police that she had gone to a bar with a friend in the District where a man introduced himself as “Felipe.” Her next memory, she told police at the time, was waking up in a strange bathroom at a home in Montgomery County — vomiting and in pain. That year, Montgomery police charged Kantor with second-degree rape, court files show. But the case was dropped three months later by prosecutors because “there was insufficient evidence to proceed,” Lazzaro said in court recently, adding that reopening the case has yielded new evidence.
A native of Nicaragua, Kantor was adopted by a Montgomery County family, graduated from Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, and spent eight years working at a day-care center in Garrett Park, according to Montgomery County Circuit Court records. He also has worked as a doorman and bouncer at restaurants and a laborer for a theater in Washington, court records show.
Over the past two weeks, police and prosecutors have made moves to set up a single trial for Kantor, obtaining a single indictment that charges him in alleged rapes in 2019, 2011, 2010 and 2007.
In turn, Kantor’s lawyers said they would ask the court to break the case into four trials, a move legal experts in Montgomery predict they would win.
But as prosecutors have said in court, they would enlist the new law to try to bring all four witnesses into each trial. They also said they may bring in additional alleged victims whose accusations may never have yielded arrests or criminal charges.
“All of this would have been unheard of in Maryland,” said Moyse, the longtime Montgomery County defense attorney, “before the new law.”