In a shocking statement on the House floor, Kevin Garn, 55, of Layton said he paid her to keep quiet about the incident during his unsuccessful U.S. congressional bid in 2002, but did not have sexual contact with her.
Garn said the woman, who he didn’t identify on the floor, has been calling news outlets and that he wanted to be open about the incident that occurred when he was 28 years old, before any stories appeared.
A woman identifying herself as Cheryl Maher told The Salt Lake Tribune that she and Garn were in a hot tub nude when she was 15 years old.
“This has just been a nightmare for me,” Maher said in a telephone interview with the newspaper from New Hampshire. “I just want to tell the truth because it’s part of the healing process for me.”
Garn told The Associated Press early Friday that Maher was the woman and that they were nude during a “spur of the moment” skinny dip. He said she worked for him in a warehouse.
“We sat there and that was it,” Garn said.
Maher, who now lives in New Hampshire, also contacted Garn’s hometown newspaper, the Ogden Standard-Examiner.
The Associated Press could not immediately reach Maher.
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.
Garn spoke on last night of the legislative session as a tearful House Speaker Dave Clark and their colleagues looked on.
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.
“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,” Garn said.
“Although we did not have any sexual contact, it was still clearly inappropriate — and it was my fault,” Garn said.
“I apologize to you, my colleagues, for any shame this brings to the Utah State Legislature. I have tried my best to serve my constituents in a way that brings honor to them and makes this great state better than the way I found it. I hope to continue to do that,” Garn said.
The Utah Senate’s former majority leader, Sheldon Killpack, resigned earlier this year after being arrested for driving under the influence.
“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,” Welling said in a statement to the AP.
Filing for re-election begins Friday.