A stunning admission on the floor of the Utah House -- the GOP majority leader admitted paying a woman $150,000 to keep quiet about a nude hot-tubbing incident that occurred 25 years ago, when the woman was just 15-years-old.
55-year-old Kevin Garn said the payment came during an unsuccessful U.S. congressional bid in 2002. He's only speaking about it now because the woman has come forward, calling news outlets with her story.
Garn told the Associated Press that he and the woman, who worked for him in a warehouse, went on a "spur of the moment" skinny dip. He was 28 at the time. He said there was no sexual contact. "We sat there and that was it," Garn said.
The woman is telling a different story, however. A woman identifying herself as Cheryl Maher told The Salt Lake Tribune that she and Garn were indeed in the tub nude, but that there was some contact. "Lets just say he loves to massage," she said.
"This has just been a nightmare for me," Maher said in a telephone interview with the newspaper from New Hampshire, where she now lives. "I just want to tell the truth because it's part of the healing process for me."
Garn confirmed to the AP that Maher is the woman in question.
In his statement on the House floor, Garn said:
One of the consequences of that decision was the negative impact it had on this young person’s life. Years later, when I was running for Congress, she decided to bring this incident to the attention of the media. Shortly thereafter, my wife and I met with her, and at her demand, I paid her $150,000. While this payment felt like extortion, I also felt like I should take her word that the money would help her heal. She agreed to keep this 25-year-old incident confidential. Now that this issue is coming up again, it is apparent to me that this payment was also a mistake.
House members gave him thunderous applause for his honesty and embraced him. As majority leader, Garn was the House's point man on a series of legislative ethics bills this year that were designed to restore the public's faith in the Legislature after recent accusations of bribery.
Garn's legislative future in highly conservative Utah with its strong Mormon influence is uncertain, but GOP Gov. Gary Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said Herbert would not be asking for Garn's resignation. In a statement she said:
"Although Rep. Garn made some bad decisions, first 25 years ago and then again in 2002, they do not diminish the good work he has done for the state of Utah."