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SALT LAKE CITY — A conservative activist charged with raping four women rubbed shoulders with some of Utah's most prominent Republican politicians and served as co-chairman of a 2007 fundraiser for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Many of them, including Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Gov. Gary Herbert and 4th Congressional District candidate Mia Love, have attended a barbecue Greg Peterson hosted what he called the Rocky Mountain Conservatives Conference at his lakeside cabin the past three years.
Peterson organized it as a "healing" event in 2010 after the contentious state GOP convention that ousted Sen. Bob Bennett and a nasty primary election between Tim Bridgewater and Lee.
Politicians eager to put those ugly scenes behind them and wanting to associate with what appeared to be a new tea party power base in Utah's GOP were drawn to the confab despite not really knowing Peterson.
"That's exactly what it was," said Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen, who attended the first event as state Republican Party chairman.
Gregory Nathan Peterson, 37, of Orem, faces 23 felony and two misdemeanor charges in connection with the alleged rapes of four women. One of those attacks, according to investigators, happened at his cabin near Heber City just one day after last year's barbecue.
Response from the Romney campaign
On his Facebook page, Peterson claims to be good friends with the Romney family and that he attended Brigham Young University with Josh Romney, the presidential candidate's youngest son. He posted photos of himself with Mitt Romney and Josh Romney on Facebook.
A September 2, 2011, post reads, "Backstage w/Mitt in Boston before a big event. I have worked for and with Mitt Romney outside of politics for years. Great leader."
Peterson is listed as co-chairman on an invitation for a Romney fundraising breakfast at the former Salt Lake Olympic leader's one-time Deer Valley home in 2007. Peterson also made a $2,300 donation to Romney's presidential campaign at that time, Federal Election Commission records show.
“We are appalled at this situation. He hasn't been associated with our campaign since 2007 and you can believe he won't be going forward," the Romney campaign said Thursday.
Response Utah's political leaders
In local Republican circles, Peterson apparently played the role of a wealthy conservative politico who claimed to have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for GOP candidates. Utah politicians described him as talking a good game but not delivering.
"He wanted people to think he was bigger than he really was," said former state Rep. Carl Wimmer, who attended the conferences in 2010 and 2011.
There has always been a consistent pattern with Mr. Peterson. He takes credit for things he has not done. He overblows his accomplishments quite dramatically.
–Carl Wimmer, former state representative
"There has always been a consistent pattern with Mr. Peterson. He takes credit for things he has not done. He overblows his accomplishments quite dramatically."
Utah tea party leader and former gubernatorial candidate David Kirkham described Peterson as "exuberant" in his political opinions. Peterson wrote a blog called the Conservative Moose and was prolific on Facebook.
"He was kind of a familiar face to many people," Kirkham said.
Wimmer said Peterson tried to give the impression he was rich, but "I don't believe he was or is."
Peterson says he is a certified financial planner and owns an Orem-based wealth management company and an online trading website. He said on Facebook that he has an MBA in finance from BYU.
Wimmer said Peterson offered to co-host a fundraiser for him and represented that he had raised lots of money for political candidates.
"I don’t think he ever raised a dime for anybody," said Wimmer, whose 4th Congressional District campaign ended at the state GOP convention in April.
Peterson billed this past May's conference as "the CPAC of the West," a reference to the national Conservative Political Action Committee that draws thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., each year. The agenda included GOP attorney general candidates John Swallow and Sean Reyes in a Lincoln/Douglas-style debate at Wasatch High School. A barbecue featuring wild elk and a golf- into-the-lake contest followed at the cabin.
Wimmer didn't attend this year because he said he did not want to associate with Peterson after hearing rumblings within the Republican Party regarding possible criminal charges against Peterson. Also, he said his wife told him she felt uncomfortable around Peterson.
Hatch didn't go to the barbecue this year, either. Hansen said it turned into an anti-Hatch event starting in 2011 with a straw poll pitting the senator against Chaffetz, who was considering a run at Hatch. Chaffetz won the straw poll. This year, the conference featured a leader from the national tea party organization FreedomWorks, which campaigned heavily against Hatch.
Utah officeholders Thursday were distancing themselves from Peterson. Some of them appear in photos with him that are posted on various websites.
Herbert campaign spokesman Marty Carpenter said the governor has his picture taken with thousands of people at hundreds of events every year.
"Mr. Peterson has no formal affiliation with the governor's campaign, nor has he ever. In fact, the governor declined Mr. Peterson's invitation (to the event) this past spring," he said.
Lee attended the 2011 conference because of other people who were there, not because of Peterson, said his spokesman Brian Phillips.
Besides hosting his own events, Peterson showed up at other political gatherings but apparently didn't work on anyone's campaign.
–David Kirkham, Utah Tea Party leader
"The notion that he was a Mike Lee guy is inaccurate," he said. "My boss certainly didn't have a personal relationship with him at all."
Hansen said Hatch wouldn't know Peterson if he walked by him.
Love's campaign declined to comment.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said he hopes Republicans would denounce the alleged sexual assaults and ban Peterson from future GOP activities.
In addition to Romney, Peterson posted on Facebook pictures of himself with Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
Besides hosting his own events, Peterson showed up at other political gatherings but apparently didn't work on anyone's campaign, Kirkham said.
"He was here and he was there," he said. "He was kind of off in his own world."