Ex-NBA Scout Pete Philo Convicted Of Sexual Assault Charges In North Carolina
4:25 PM EST on December 15, 2023
Former NBA standout scout and convicted rapist Pete Philo was found guilty of two sexual assault charges Friday morning by a Mecklenburg County jury.
Philo, who had a 14-year career as talent evaluator for several NBA teams, was arrested in February 2022 in Charlotte, N.C. According to the arrest warrant, an employee of the European Wax Center told police she had been assaulted at work by a customer she identified as Philo. He was accused of “grabbing the victim’s buttocks while embracing her, immediately after exposing his genitals to her.” Philo was 50 years old at the time of his arrest in Charlotte. The spa employee was 20.
Philo was initially charged on two counts, one of sexual battery: forcible fondling and one of indecent exposure. Prosecutors refiled a case against him in August 2023, dropping the indecent exposure charge and adding a count of assault on a female. Both are classified as misdemeanors.
James Bradley Smith, a Charlotte attorney representing Philo, did not respond to Defector’s request for comment.
Mackenzie Gaston, the European Wax Center employee victimized by Philo, told Defector after the verdict that Philo had been a patron of the spa since 2019. Gaston said that a note had been placed on his file in the business's computer system warning about his "inappropriate conversation" during visits, but she was not aware of any physical misconduct until she was assaulted.
Gaston said she was appalled by Philo's behavior during this week's trial, particularly while she and two co-workers told their stories of what he'd done. "He and his attorney were laughing the whole time we were testifying," she said. "It made me sad, really. It was a joke to them! They were taking it as a joke!"
Philo took the stand and gave the jury a fictionalized account of what happened, according to Gaston. "When he [testified], literally everything I said, he just said the opposite," she said. "He said I was the one who flirted with him, I was the one who touched his butt, I asked him to pull his pants down. It’s funny, the confidence that he had on the stand, like, 'They’re going to believe me.'"
They didn't believe him: Michael Stolp, spokesperson for the Mecklenburg County prosecutor's office, said the jury in the Charlotte assault case deliberated for an hour before convicting Philo on both counts. Philo was sentenced to 75 days in jail and ordered to begin serving his time immediately.
Philo's arrest in Charlotte came just months he'd been removed from the North Carolina Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry, a database for known sex offenders. He was placed on the registry for convictions in October 2000 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., on four felony counts of third-degree rape, four misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child, and four misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse.
In that case, Philo had raped and impregnated a 15-year-old high school freshman at the Charlton School, a boarding school for troubled girls in Saratoga Springs where he worked as a counselor.
In a 2019 interview, Philo told me his rape convictions came after he had been set up by a girl he had only met once in a bar. Court records and other public documents, as well as contemporaneous news accounts of the crime, contradict that and many of Philo’s other claims. He was actually longtime friends of the victim's family and had known her since she was 3 years old. The victim told me, also in a 2019 interview, that when Philo was a teenager, he had hung around with her older brother and would visit her family home when she was a toddler.
“He used to babysit me,” the victim said. She said that when Philo took a job as a counselor at the Charlton School in early 1999, after playing professional basketball in Europe for several years, he used the relationship with her family to gain her trust and then began to take her to his off-campus apartment. The victim told me that Philo also groomed other students while he was supposed to be making nighttime bed check rounds in the dormitories, and that she knew of several of her classmates he’d had sex with.
In the 1999 case, Saratoga County prosecutor Jennifer A. Jensen told the court that investigators had evidence that Philo had also had sexual intercourse with at least two other students during his one semester at the Charlton School. Despite the severity of his Saratoga Springs crimes, Philo was let off quite easily by the legal system in his former hometown.
Along with being a former basketball star at the local high school, Philo's mother was an elected judge in upstate New York at the time of the rapes. And Philo is white, while his victim was black; according to the U.S. Census, Saratoga County at the time was 96 percent white and 1 percent black.
Philo faced a potential sentence of 24 years on the 12 counts. Jensen cited his lack of remorse—he’d denied ever having sex with the 15-year-old until her baby was born and blood tests showed he was the father—and requested that Judge Jerry J. Scarano put Philo away in state prison for a minimum of four years. Jensen asked for notable punishment “because the defendant impregnated a 15-year-old and now we have a child raising a child.”
But Philo’s attorney, Terence Kindlon, pleaded for mercy for his client, saying Philo “has a genuine interest in caring for his son.”
Philo was sentenced to just one year in the Saratoga County jail, rather than a state prison. Jensen said after the trial that she had never heard of a case in the county where a convicted rapist wasn’t sent to the state prison.
"My sister was a ward of the state," the Saratoga Springs victim's older brother, a former high school friend of Philo's, told Defector after Philo's arrest in Charlotte. "He’s acting as a state agent, and supposed to be protecting her. Instead he preyed on my sister. Preyed on her! He rapes her and gets her pregnant. And he gets nothing? It was disgusting."
Philo kept getting breaks from the system that made no sense to his victim or her family. He was released from the local jail after serving eight months. Very quickly he got a job as a scout with the Dallas Mavericks, and moved up in their talent evaluation department through contacts he’d made while playing basketball overseas. He was hailed as a pioneer in evaluating foreign talent, and was given credit by the New York Times for founding Eurocamp, an annual combine for European players held in Treviso, Italy.
Philo went on to run scouting departments for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Indiana Pacers. He left the Pacers in 2016. Neither the team nor Philo ever publicly disclosed why they parted ways. A brother of the Saratoga Springs victim told me he had written to the Pacers' front office shortly before Philo's departure about employing a convicted child rapist, but never heard back from the team. Philo hasn’t had an NBA job since.
Philo’s victim in the 1999 rape case died in January 2022. According to her family, her death was the result of a self-administered drug overdose. She was 37 years old.
Gaston said she learned after Philo’s February 2022 arrest about his previous rape convictions in Saratoga County and how the legal system in his hometown had coddled him in that case. That knowledge, she said, helped motivate her to stay focused in the year and 10 months that it took to finally get her days in court.
“I got justice for me,” Gaston said. “But it would have been so much easier to just let it go, but I couldn’t morally do that. I followed through with this because I wanted justice for that 15-year-old and for any other female he might put through this in the future. He obviously hasn’t changed at all.”
According to the Mecklenburg County Courts, after Philo finishes serving his current sentence, he must re-register with the North Carolina Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry "for the rest of his natural life."