SALT LAKE CITY — Gregory Nathan Peterson was a man hungry for success. And he appeared to be on the fast track for a rise to the top.
He earned a bachelor's degree in international studies in 1999 from BYU, an MBA in 2002, founded three businesses in a little more than a decade, had an impressive five-bedroom, five-bathroom cabin in Heber City, and was rubbing elbows with many of Utah's top GOP brass by hosting an annual fundraiser.
Friends say he would sign many of his letters and emails with the tagline "Future President of the United States." He is a man who friends say can be sincere, but also has a good sense of humor and can easily make people laugh.
But they also say Peterson, 37, has a dark side.
He could “go from zero to freak show in 60 seconds," said a former business partner who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A review of court documents, investigative reports and interviews with former friends, business associates and women he either dated or sought to date paint a portrait of a man who is also aggressive, arrogant and has a short fuse.
Today, Peterson sits in the Salt Lake County Jail on $750,000 bail, accused of raping or sexually abusing five women. He faces 26 charges — 24 of them felonies — including 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse, seven counts of object rape, three counts of rape, and one count each of aggravated kidnapping, forcible sodomy, burglary and sexual battery.
A preliminary hearing to determine if there is enough probable cause to proceed to trial begins Tuesday and is expected to last two days.
Four women are accusing Peterson of assaulting them. The latest charge, forcible sexual abuse, was filed Monday in Wasatch County on behalf of a fifth woman.
Another woman came forward and had her case reviewed by the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, but prosecutors declined to file charges because of a lack of evidence. The Wasatch County Sheriff's Office confirmed it was also investigating two additional claims made against Peterson.
Peterson's attorney, Cara Tangaro, insists that her client is "100 percent" not guilty. "What he has told me and what he maintains is that nothing illegal has ever happened with any of these women," she said.
Several acquaintances, including a former business partner, said that while Peterson can be "aggressive and off-putting," he is not capable of rape.
Peterson grew up in Omaha, Neb. One former classmate remembers him as a skinny, "nerdy" kid who took his share of teasing. Gary Wilson said Peterson and his family didn't appear to have a lot of money, as he and his sisters wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes. Wilson said he remembers that Peterson held on to one pair of pants for two years and just kept unhemming the pant legs as he grew.
But being a bit socially awkward, as Wilson remembered him, didn't stop Peterson from trying out for the sports teams or running for class president.
"He always wanted to be popular, he was never ever shy by any means. He would always have no problems talking to everybody. But he was kind of obnoxious in a way," recalled Wilson. "I just remember him always wanting to be the most important at things. … He always wanted to be the popular kid in school, he always tried to be more important than he really was."
In junior high school, Wilson recalled Peterson talked about becoming quarterback on the football team, even though he mostly "rode the bench."
Nevertheless, Peterson was "always so passionate with what he was talking about," Wilson said. In seventh or eighth grade, Wilson said Peterson ran for class president and won.
Peterson was raised in an LDS family and attended church regularly.
"You never saw him on Sundays. It was always family day," Wilson recalled. He would talk about being Mormon, which stood out to him because there were so few Mormons in their Nebraska neighborhood.
But Wilson said Peterson also had a temper.
Years later when Wilson, then a registered Democrat, and Peterson reconnected on Facebook, Wilson said it took only three weeks for Peterson to "defriend" him because Wilson didn't share his political views.
Father in prison
Wilson said he didn't recall ever seeing Peterson's father, Jackie Leroy Peterson. Today, the father is behind bars, even as his son faces a preliminary hearing and possible trial.
Jackie Peterson has been in the Tecumseh Prison in Nebraska since 2000. Now a registered sex offender, he was sentenced to serve between 30 and 50 years in prison after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a child. His first parole hearing is scheduled for 2014. If he is not paroled early, he could be released in December of 2024.
Jackie Peterson's 2000 conviction was the second time in two years that he was convicted of sexually assaulting the same victim. He was originally sentenced to probation, but was then sent to prison after sexually assaulting the same victim again.
Greg Peterson's mother currently lives in Lewiston, Cache County. Prosecutors say Greg Peterson took one woman to his mother's house after kidnapping her, and kept her there for several days, threatening that he would tell authorities her visa had expired if she went to police.
Jean Peterson, Greg Peterson's mother, declined requests for an interview.
School and career
Peterson earned a bachelor's degree from BYU in international studies before getting a master's degree in business administration. He was a dean’s scholar and first runner up for the Student Entrepreneur of The Year award.
He served an LDS mission in Venezuela in 1996 but went home after about nine months due to an illness, according to a former missionary.
Over the past decade, Peterson has held several jobs, most of which are related to the financial services industry. In 2002, he started a business called Satcom Wireless LLC, and was showing signs of success and business acumen.
Still, those who knew him then said he had a temper.
In 2004, Hristo Belchev, who said he lived for a time in Peterson's Heber cabin, filed a complaint with BYU while working for Peterson at Satcom as a satellite dish installer. Belchev, a Bulgarian native, claimed Peterson used threats, intimidation and manipulation against him.
"Talking about threats, some of the most common ones were and still are — he is going to withhold my retainer if: I don't do what he tells me to do, when he tells me to do it, or if I want to quit Satcom, or if I want to leave the cabin," Belchev wrote in a complaint to BYU. "With stuff like that being held over my head, I didn't think I had a way to get out of the situation and I didn't dare say anything to anyone at BYU for fear of the 'consequences.'"
The complaint was filed with BYU because of a deal Peterson had with the school to hire interns from the International Center. A copy of the complaint was given to the Deseret News by Belchev. A spokeswoman at BYU's University Career Services confirmed the complaint against Peterson, but referred questions to their legal staff.
In the complaint, Belchev gave several examples of Peterson's alleged temper and controlling nature. In one incident, Belchev said he once used some gasoline that Peterson had stored in the garage. Afterward, Belchev claimed that Peterson told him his gas could only be used for going to church and work and not visiting friends, and if he didn't like it, he had to suck the gasoline back out of the car with a garden hose, according to the complaint.
In another incident, Belchev accused Peterson of threatening to charge him $50 every time he spoke in Bulgarian around the office.
BYU interviewed Belchev and other interns at the company — all foreign — who got their positions through the BYU International Center, according to emails between Belchev and the school obtained by the Deseret News.
In one email, an international student wrote to BYU: "That is the reason why he hires all international people, so that he can exploit them. He orders as a dictator and as if we are slaves."
After its investigation, BYU discontinued its association with Satcom and no longer invited the company on campus to recruit students.
In 2007, Peterson began working for Next Financial Group. He eventually left to start his own company, Peterson Wealth Management, LLC. He and a group of fellow BYU students also started Smartstocks.com, an online stock trading simulation game. According to its website, it is used by students in financial programs at Harvard, Princeton, Yale, BYU, Ohio State, Stanford, Notre Dame and other institutions.
Peterson had a goal to be worth $1 million by age 30, according to the former business partner. With the selling of Satcom, it was presumed Peterson accomplished that goal. There is no Utah public record of Peterson selling the business, however.
Despite Peterson's business success, the former colleague said Peterson's persuasive and sometimes aggressive and forceful nature creates the tendency to put those who come into contact with him “on the defensive." He said Peterson was easily agitated, would often argue with others, and “rigged” every situation to get what he wanted out of it.
Peterson, the man said, has a hard time maintaining friendships with people and “burns bridges like they’re going out of style.”
Peterson was married in the summer of 2004 in the LDS Mount Timpinogos Temple in American Fork, according to friends, but filed for divorce from his wife, Miriam Carmona Peterson, in 2006. They apparently reconciled, but he filed again in 2009 and this time went through with it, according to court records.
His former wife has since remarried and lives in Utah County. The Deseret News contacted his ex-wife's new mother-in-law who said Miriam didn't have any interest in speaking to the media.
A woman who asked to remain anonymous attended Peterson's wedding and said she and her husband also initially used him as a financial adviser. That came to an end when she said she told Peterson she didn't feel comfortable with several of his financial ideas. He responded, she said, by cursing at her.
"He then called my husband at work who used to be his roommate at BYU and told my husband he felt sorry for him because he was married to me and he told my husband that I was a raging (expletive)," she said.
After his divorce, Peterson dated, or attempted to date, many women. More than a half-dozen women have either spoken with or emailed the Deseret News since Peterson's arrest saying they were approached by him. Many describe Peterson as being very forward with them at LDS-related events, especially singles ward activities.
"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," said Haley Hayes, who said she was asked out by Peterson several times. Each time she declined. "And he (talked) about his political affiliations, and on his Facebook page he was with a lot of big guru political people."
Some of those politicians who attended Peterson's GOP fundraisers included Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Gov. Gary Herbert and 4th Congressional District candidate Mia Love.
A few months ago, Hayes said her interaction with Peterson came to a head during a church function in which he cornered her with a one-sided intense conversation 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."
Peterson had profiles on at least two online dating sites, LDSSingles.com and LDSLinkup.com. The last time he logged in to LDSSingles.com was July 18, the same day that he was arrested.
On his dating profile, in which he used the profile name "oddsrgoodbutgoodsrodd," he wrote: "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. … I have an open heart to all situations and circumstances, so long as you want to have a family and bring that family back to God."
Peterson regularly attended church and his online profile said he had an LDS temple recommend. He also said in his profile that he was looking for a woman who's into "physical fitness" and is under 35 so he can start a family with her soon.
Angela Van Gilder, who said she met Peterson through ldssingles.com, described him as "the dirty guy who got talked about" in singles' circles.
Peterson would always start off being really nice to a woman, she said. But if anyone said anything he disagreed with, he'd turn in an instant.
"He's definitely got a really big temper," she said. "He's just volatile and he's very aggressive."
Van Gilder recalled the first phone conversation she had with Peterson after meeting him online. He was very nice, she said, until she mentioned that she was divorced. At that point, Peterson allegedly cursed at her and told her was only looking for women who hadn't been married.
She later observed him at other singles activities and noticed the way he interacted with others. "He was very forceful with his personality. It was either his way or leave if they didn't like it," she said.
"Earlier this year he attempted to contact me through ldssingles.com sending me crude sexual messages. I ignored them, having already seen the person he truly is."
Peterson met at least three of his alleged victims on online dating sites and at least one at a church function, according to court documents. It wasn't clear how he met the latest woman he is charged with sexually abusing.
Before these felony charges were filed against Peterson in Salt Lake and Wasatch counties, Peterson's Utah criminal record included nothing but traffic infractions.
The first alleged victim said she met Peterson at an LDS singles activity in Draper on March 26, 2011. According to charging documents and a search warrant obtained by the Deseret News, Peterson invited the woman to leave with him to go to a movie. Instead of a theater, however, he started driving up Parleys Canyon.
The woman told investigators that during the ride, Peterson became short with her, made suggestive comments and slapped her across the face. She was slapped again at Peterson's cabin before he raped her several times, according to court documents.
The next day, the woman was at the Northern Utah Forensic Evidence Clinic in South Ogden for nine hours for a forensic evaluation. Part of the evaluation noted bruising on the woman's face consistent with being hit, police said.
On March 30, 2011 Wasatch County sheriff's deputies executed a search warrant on Peterson's cabin. Peterson was booked into the Wasatch County Jail that same day. He was released April 6, 2011. Ultimately, Wasatch County Attorney Scott Sweat declined to file charges.
More than a year later, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill agreed to file charges in the same woman's case because three other cases had come to light. The combination of four women making similar accusations against Peterson made Salt Lake County's case stronger, he said.
Those four cases are the focus of Tuesday's hearing.
Immediately following the first arrest, Peterson's attorney hired a private investigator. In a report submitted by the investigator on April 13, 2011, another man who was at the church function said the alleged victim had told him that Peterson invited her back to his residence to play guitar. At no point was a movie mentioned, according to the report.
Court records show the woman went through a turbulent divorce and custody battle with her first husband, whom she accused of sexually abusing a child and filed for a protective order. But according to court documents, following an investigation by the Division of Child and Family Services, "the court dismissed the ex-parte order, finding no basis whatsoever for (the woman's) allegations."
In 2009, the woman's second husband requested a restraining order, according to court documents, after she allegedly withdrew their children from school without his knowledge, went to Idaho to see her new boyfriend and threatened to move to Texas with the children. She also made abuse allegations.
In an interview with the second husband, the man told the private investigator his ex-wife had a "history" and a pattern of ending relationships in a "real ugly" way. It's unknown whether Peterson intends to use that information as part of his defense.
Another woman at the same singles activity in Draper that night told the private investigator that she dated Peterson 14 years earlier. "He's a bad guy, sorry to say, but he will stop if you tell him to stop," she said in the report, adding that Peterson is "argumentative but not violent in the times she has seen him."
• A second alleged victim said she met Peterson online on July 2, 2011. He invited her to dinner and a movie, but allegedly drove her to his Heber cabin where she claims she was raped. Peterson then took the woman to his mother's house in Lewiston where she was allegedly held for two days. During that time the woman claims Peterson continuously held her immigration status over her head, noting her visa had expired.
"I won't deport you, I promise, if you listen to me," Peterson told the woman, according to court documents.
She told prosecutors he also displayed episodes of having an explosive temper, such as yelling, "Touch me!" at her and, "When I'm talking to you, look at me!"
• On Dec. 11, 2011, a third woman who also met Peterson online said she arranged a lunch date with Peterson, but when he showed up at her house, he pushed her onto a couch and sexually assaulted her, according to the charges.
• A fourth woman, who also met Peterson through an online dating site, said she set up a lunch date on April 21, 2012. But when he approached her home, she said he forcefully grabbed her, took her to a bedroom and sexually assaulted her.
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.
Tuesday's preliminary hearing comes just three weeks after Peterson's arraignment — quick by today's standards. But Peterson's attorneys insisted that their client's right to a speedy trial be met.
Contributing: Geoff Liesik