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SALT LAKE CITY — Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said Friday law enforcement is investigating what he called a possible case of entrapment after a state senator was approached at his hotel by a woman claiming to be his "date."
Meantime, taxpayers paid for hotel rooms where former Rep. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, allegedly met a prostitute twice last year. House GOP leaders are looking into whether how — or if — they can seek reimbursement for the lodging.
Calling it an "unusal" part of the workload, House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said GOP House leadership still needs to work through the matter.
"The challenge is the place is still going a hundred miles an hour," he said. "In any case like this, if we find a misuse of public funds, we would try to be reimbursed for those. Beyond that, if there are criminal charges, that’s not our bailiwick."
Police are involved in the incident that happened Thursday night.
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said when he responded to a knock on his Little America Hotel room door about 6 p.m. Thursday, a "young lady" standing there told him, "I'm your date and we have reservations downtown."
Vickers said he told her, "No, you're not. I said, 'What room and what name are you looking for? And she said, 'No, you don't understand. I'm your date.' I said, 'No, you're not,' and I closed my door."
The woman who showed up at his hotel room door was "normal" looking, the senator said, and did not know his name. He said his wife was not in the room at the time.
He said he spoke with her a second time near the hotel elevator where they had a similar exchange before he returned to his room. Vickers said he then called another lawmaker waiting for him in the lobby and asked him to meet him in his room.
Vickers said he and the other lawmaker attended a University of Utah basketball game before he alerted hotel security to the situation. Friday morning, Vickers said he told legislative leaders and security officials.
"This certainly had all the feel of entrapment," Vickers told reporters during the Senate's daily media briefing. Asked if he was shocked, Vickers said, "Oh, yeah. … You could say I was shocked."
The incident occurred a day after a story appeared in a British tabloid alleging that a Stanard, who resigned Tuesday, paid $250 to an escort for trysts at the Fairfield Inn in downtown Salt Lake City on June 20 and Aug. 22 of last year. Stanard exchanged a string of text messages with the prostitute before and after the encounters.
Both of those dates correspond with legislative interim meetings a day later, June 21 and Aug. 23. On those days, lawmakers meet in various committee meetings.
Hotel receipts provided by Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes' office show Stanard paid $112.60 for the rooms on both occasions.
Wilson said getting reimbursed for text messages is "tricky" but that lodging might be a simpler issue.
"If there’s an issue there, which I’m not saying there is or isn’t, if there is, we’ll probably be able to deal with that more directly," he said.
Wilson said he’s not aware of any criminal investigation of Stanard. “I think it’s something we’ll deal with internally,” he said.
Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he met privately with senators to tell them about the Vickers situation, which he described as a "little jaw-dropping" for them. He said he advised them to be on "high alert" for people with malicious intentions.
"This has caused us some alarm," the Senate president said. He said he was "not sure if this is a result of what happened to Rep. Stanard," but suggested some people might be looking for a payday.
"It’s hard to say that. But I think it creates more risk to us. There are parties in that scenario who made money," Niederhauser said. "When people can make money like this, it just attracts people with malintent."
It has not been confirmed that the escort quoted by the Daily Mail about her alleged encounters with Stanard was paid for the story.
Niederhauser said he has also spoken with House leaders about the incident but lawmakers will wait for the results of the investigation before taking further action, which could include increasing security at hotels where they stay during the session.
Lawmakers from outside the area are reimbursed for their hotel rooms during the 45-day legislative session and many stay at Little America.
House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, pulled small groups of GOP House members off the floor to tell them about the hotel incident. House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, also informed Democratic members.
“We had Rep. Gibson pull them into my office during floor time to share with them what was going on and told them to be vigilant,” Wilson said.
“We will make sure we’re as prepared as you can be," he said. "But it’s pretty easy now with a selfie stick to set somebody up if they’re not paying attention to what’s going on around them."
Wilson said lawmakers are still trying to do their work, but the incident has caught their attention.
“For me personally, I can’t believe someone would stoop to that level to try to set up a lawmaker like that,” he said. “Hopefully, people can be vigilant and this nonsense can come to an end in terms of what happened last night."