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SALT LAKE CITY -- House Majority Leader Kevin Garn shocked the Legislature on the final night of the 2010 session, by confessing he paid a woman half his age $150,000 in 2002, to keep quiet about what he says was non-sexual encounter from 1983.
Garn says he got into a hot tub, naked, with a girl half his age when he was 28. He is currently 55.
To a hushed chamber packed with fellow lawmakers, spouses, and interns waiting to celebrate the Legislature's final night, Garn read a prepared statement.
In a soft voice over the House chamber speaker system, Garn accepted full responsibility for what happened, apologizing to fellow lawmakers for any possible embarrassment the news of the encounter might cause.
"Representatives, 25 years ago, I made a mistake that has come back to haunt me," Garn said in a statement on the House floor.
- A Republican member of the Utah House of Representatives, representing the 16th district in Layton since 2007
- The current Utah House Majority Leader
- Is self-employed
- Attended Weber State University
"I was 28 years old, and I foolishly went hot-tubbing with a girl half my age. Although we did not have sexual contact, it was clearly inappropriate, and it was my fault."
The woman has been identified as Cheryl Maher, who now lives in New Hampshire. Maher contacted reporters at both papers, as well as several legislators, and is talking about her interaction with Garn.
She is quoted in both papers as saying, "I did not want to lash out and hurt anybody. This has just been a nightmare for me.... I just want to tell the truth because it's part of the healing process for me."
The Tribune reports Maher worked for Garn at his business, Pegasus Records and KSG Enterprises, when she was 15. She says that, although Garn was married, he took her to a Salt Lake City location, where the hot tub encounter occured.
Maher claims to reporters at both newspapers that her life unraveled over time, which she attributes to the incident. She says she has mental health issues, as well as addictions to prescription drugs and alcohol.
Over time, Garn says the girl claimed the experience impacted her negatively.
Garn says that when he ran for Congress in 2002, the woman came to him demanding $150,000.
"While this payment felt like extortion, I also felt I should take her word that the money would help her heal. She agreed to keep this 25-year-old encounter confidential. Now this incident has come up again, it has become apparent to me that this payment was a mistake," Garn said.
Garn says the woman contacted several reporters, effectively reviving the story.
Rep. Garn said he now wants to be open about what happened, rather than living in fear. He says he told his wife Tanya and the rest of his family about the incident years ago and received forgiveness.
"I may not deserve their forgiveness, but they have given it. My primary concern at this point is that my wife and the rest of my family know how much I love them. I'm sorry for this incident," Garn said. [CLICK HERE to read the entire statement]
Garn also publicly apologized to the woman for the incident. "And I apologize to you, my colleagues for any shame this brings to the Utah Legislature."
After the speech, Garn received overwhelming support from his colleagues.
An emotional House Speaker David Clark spoke on behalf of the House.
"We know a man of integrity, leadership, who is willing to give a helping hand to every member of this body, Clark said."
"You are an asset to the state of Utah. I ask that all of us share in honoring a man that we know has served honorably and capably in this body, and we're proud to do so." Clark then led the House in a standing ovation.
At this point it is not clear whether Garn will continue to run for election this fall.
A House staff member expressed regret over the emergence of the story, referring to the woman in question as potentially 'unbalanced', and once again seeking financial gain.
Regardless, Representative Garn decided to come clean, rather than to continue living in fear, he said.
The Deseret News reports it learned of the allegations against Garn just prior to the GOP primary election in 2002. The paper decided not to publish a story at that time because the GOP primary was only weeks away and the incident had occurred years before.