SALT LAKE CITY — House Majority Leader Kevin Garn admitted as the Legislature adjourned Thursday night to a nude hot-tubbing incident with a teenage girl 25 years ago.
In a tearful statement in a packed House chambers, Garn said the mistake has "now come back to haunt me" as the woman has gone public with the story. The Layton Republican said he entered into a confidentiality agreement with the woman in 2002 and paid her $150,000.
"I was 28 years old and I foolishly went hot-tubbing with a young woman nearly half my age. Although we did not have any sexual contact, it was still clearly inappropriate — and it was my fault," Garn said in a statement.
"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, their spouses, staff members and a full public gallery where poised to celebrate the close of the 45-day session when Garn took the microphone and silenced those in attendance. Gov. Gary Herbert had just completed delivering his traditional end-of-session address to House members and left the floor moments before Garn spoke.
House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, was visibly upset following Garn's confession and was the only legislator to speak afterwards.
"I don't know the man you speak of, but I know the man I consider a friend, a leader and an asset to the state of Utah," Clark said. "I would ask my fellow colleagues that their hearts might be open, and that we wish you and your family all the best and we hope that you remain with us."
According to the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, the woman's name is Sheryl Maher and she now lives in New Hampshire. She told the newspaper the incident has haunted her. She said she was 15 at the time of the incident.
"I never wanted to do this," said Maher, explaining that she has resisted going public.
The Deseret News learned of the allegations against Garn just before the GOP primary election in 2002. Garn sat down and spoke about the incident with Deseret News reporters and editors.
At the time, Garn and now-U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, were in a tight primary race seeking the Republican nomination for the 1st Congressional District and Garn was the Utah House majority leader, a position he has, again, achieved.
Deseret News editors decided not to run a story about the indiscretion at that time, since the GOP primary was only weeks away and the incident had occurred years before.
The editors decided to wait to see if Garn advanced in the primary before deciding whether to publish a story.
Because Garn lost that primary, and therefore was also retiring from the Utah House, the newspaper never published a story.
Garn later told the newspaper that he had spoken directly to the woman, had met with her along with his wife, that lawyers had gotten involved and that for an undisclosed sum of money that Garn had paid the woman, she had signed a confidentiality agreement agreeing not to talk about the long-ago incident publicly.
The Deseret News had no further contact with her.
Garn ran for his old Layton Utah House seat several years later and was eventually elected again into House GOP majority leadership — the position of majority leader that he holds today.
Since the Deseret News believed that the woman had signed a legal agreement not to speak about the matter again, it did not pursue the story, in part because it had happened so long ago when Garn was in his 20s.