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Photo of rape suspect Gregory N. Peterson.

SALT LAKE CITY — A GOP activist who prosecutors say kidnapped and raped women whom he met online and at church functions has been arrested and charged with 23 felonies.

He appears to have targeted mostly LDS adult women.

Gregory Nathan Peterson, 37, of Orem, was charged Wednesday with seven counts of rape, three counts of object rape, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, nine counts of forcible sexual abuse, forcible sodomy, assault, burglary and sexual battery.

Peterson is a GOP activist who held political events at his cabin in Heber City, 10160 E. Ridge Pine Drive, the same place where prosecutors allege he took at least two women after kidnapping them and then raped them. One of those attacks, according to investigators, happened just one day after a political event.

Investigators have identified four victims dating back to March of 2011. Peterson met three of the victims on an online dating site and another at a church function, according to the charges.

Prosecutors would not say Thursday which online dating services Peterson used. However, he had profiles on at least two online dating sites, LDSSingles.com and LDSLinkup.com. His last activity on LDSSingles.com was Wednesday before he was arrested.

On his dating profile, in which he used the profile name, "oddsrgoodbutgoodsrodd," Peterson stated that he had a LDS temple recommend and served a mission to Venezuela and also noted in his profile that he "regularly attends church."

"I have an open heart and an open mind, and I've been told that the best relationships on here come when the girl initiates contact with the guy," he wrote. "I have open heart to all situations and circumstances, so long as you want to have a family and bring that family back to God."

Peterson also says in his profile that he's looking for a woman who's into "physical fitness" and is under 35 so he can start a family with her soon.

By Thursday afternoon, Peterson's profile had been taken offline.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office considered filing charges in cases involving five women, but did not have strong enough evidence in one of the incidents.

One of the four women first went to the Wasatch County Attorney's Office but prosecutors there declined to file charges, Gill said. She then went to the Unified Police Department in March where investigators started putting together pieces of information from several alleged victims.

Once investigators in Salt Lake County began sharing information on the cases, they realized they were all looking at the same person, which made it a stronger case for prosecutors, Gill said.

"I saw a pattern that was not available to (Wasatch County Attorney) Scott (Sweat)," he said. "The strength of four victims coming forward speaks for itself."

But once Salt Lake County detectives realized what was going on, Gill said Wasatch County investigators were helpful in sharing the information they had already collected.

• On March 26, 2011, a woman told police she met Peterson at a church function in Draper and agreed to go to a movie with him. As they began driving, however, Peterson went in a different direction than the movie theater. He told the woman he was taking her to his cabin in Heber, the charges state.

When the woman told him to turn around, police say he told her he had a concealed weapons permit and pointed to the car's console.

During the drive, Peterson forced the woman to commit lewd acts and "smacked her across the face" for not doing one correctly, the charges state. He again allegedly "smacked her in the face with his backhand" at the cabin. The woman later told police at that point "she did not want to get hit again and did anything the defendant told her to do."

Peterson pointed out loaded weapons in the room and raped the woman and held her in the cabin overnight, according to the charges.

Peterson hosted about 300 Republican lawmakers — including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Gov. Gary Herbert — at his Heber cabin July 1, 2011, for the Rocky Mountain Conservatives annual convention and barbecue. It's an event Peterson has hosted before.

Republican politicians Thursday described Peterson as a conservative activist who made himself out to be more than he really was. They say he took credit for things he didn't do, such as raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for candidates. He tried to give the impression he was wealthy, but they say they doubt that is the case.

• On July 2, 2011, prosecutors say Peterson arranged to go to a movie and dinner with another woman he met online. He allegedly drove the woman from Sandy to his cabin in Heber City against her will. Peterson displayed a handgun in his car and threatened to have the woman deported because of an expired visa if she did not cooperate, the charges state.

Peterson allegedly held the woman hostage at his cabin overnight and sexually assaulted her. The next day, he took her to his mother's house in Lewiston, Cache County, where she was held hostage for two days and repeatedly assaulted, according to court documents. He also is accused of verbally assaulting the woman, at times yelling, "When I'm talking to you, look at me!"

Peterson followed the same woman to her Salt Lake County home six days later and sexually assaulted her again, according to the charges.

• A third woman said she met Peterson online and went on a lunch date with him on Dec. 11, 2011. When he arrived at her West Jordan residence, he assaulted her, court records state.

• On April 21, 2012, a fourth woman who met Peterson online also had a lunch date with him. Prosecutors say Peterson pushed the woman into the bedroom of her Salt Lake home and attempted to assault her.

U.S. marshals arrested Peterson Wednesday night and booked him into the Salt Lake County Jail. He was being held Thursday on $750,000 bail.

Investigators say if there are any other potential victims, they should contact police.

Haley Hayes fears she may have become a victim if she had agreed to go out with Peterson.

Hayes said Thursday Peterson went to an LDS singles ward in Sandy frequently and tried several times to convince her to go out with him.

"Every time he had a function up at his cabin in Heber, he would always invite me to come up and try and get me to come," she said. "And he (talked) about his political affiliations, and on his Facebook page he was with a lot of big guru political people."

A few months ago, Hayes said her interaction with Peterson came to a head during a church function in which he cornered her and intensely talked to her for about 90 minutes.

"He was very, very, very physical," she said. "He was very, very explicit, kind of borderline derogatory in the things he was saying."

But Hayes never went out with Peterson, although at the time she said she thought he was harmless. That changed Thursday when she heard of his arrest.

"I'm still shaking. I just feel like I'm going to throw up," she said. "I was so lucky. Really, I didn't expect him to be this kind of a person."

Another woman emailed the Deseret News saying she, too, was contacted by Peterson on LDSSingles.com.

"We talked a couple of times. The first time he seemed normal. The second time he creeped me out. He asked me my bra size and started talking about his sex life with his ex-wife. I got mad at him and told him I was done talking with him. He seemed like a coward and whimpered off the phone," she said.

Gill said whatever political ties Peterson did or didn't have had no influence on the charges that were filed.

"I don't care if you're a Democrat, Libertarian, Socialist or Republican. This conduct by itself is serious. I have four victims who have come forward and made some serious allegations. If you violate the law in this fashion in our jurisdiction, you will be prosecuted regardless of who you are or whatever your affiliation may or may not be," he said.

The Utah Rape Recovery Center expressed a similar message in a prepared statement, asking the public to consider the victims, "their needs and the notion that anyone — no matter social, political, economic or religious status — is capable of committing acts of sexual violence."

"These cases show a clear pattern of Mr. Peterson working to win his victims' respect and trust in a deeply conniving way," said Holly Mullen, the center's executive director.

According to Peterson's Facebook page, he has been a certified financial planner since 2007.

Peterson said he earned a bachelor’s degree in global economy from BYU and an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from the Marriott School of Management at BYU, where he was a dean’s scholar.

In 2006, Peterson filed for divorce from his wife. The petition was eventually withdrawn.  But in 2009 he filed for divorce again and this time the couple went through with it.

On June 12, 2012, a woman filed a civil stalking injunction against Peterson in 3rd District Court and asked for a protective order. On July 9, the injunction was granted. As part of the ruling, Peterson denied the stalking allegations against him but stipulated to the protective order, according to court records.

He also has his own You Tube channel where he posted comedy sketches, including one in which he impersonates President George W. Bush as part of a BYU charity event.

The charges against Peterson include: seven counts of rape, a first-degree felony; three counts of object rape, a first degree felony; two counts of aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony; forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony; nine counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony; burglary, a second-degree felony; assault, a class B misdemeanor; and sexual battery, a class A misdemeanor.

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam