Updated 5:12 p.m. Eastern Time
Utah residents are buzzing about the admission by the state's House majority leader, Kevin Garn, that he paid $150,000 to a woman named Cheryl Maher to keep silent about an incident more than 25 years ago in which the two were naked in a hot-tub. At the time, Maher was 15 years old.
The story, as reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, is a sad one. Garn, a Republican, reportedly made the payment during his 2002 campaign for Congress after Maher threatened to go public; she kept quiet then but in recent days told her story to reporters.
The House majority leader, "visibly distraught and shaken," confirmed Maher's account Thursday on the statehouse floor.
"I expect to suffer public humiliation and embarrassment," he said. "Some lessons are hard to learn. This is something I should've done back in 2002 but I was scared."
Garn said he "did not want to be publicly judged" for his mistake, though he added that it was inappropriate and "my fault."
In 1985, according to the Tribune, Maher, then 15, worked for the married Garn at his business. They got to know each other, and one night Garn and Maher were together, naked, in a Salt Lake City hot tub. In the following years, Maher struggled with pills, alcohol and mental health issues, something she attributes to that incident.
Garn told the Associated Press that the skinny-dip was a "spur of the moment" decision and that "we sat there and that was it." He was 28 years old at the time.
Maher has not come forward with the details of her story, but she told City Weekly in Salt Lake City that Garn is lying.
"Let's just say this. He really loves to massage," she said. Maher also said she had been in love with Garn, her onetime Sunday school teacher.
After Garn, with his wife beside him, made his shocking admission Thursday, fellow lawmakers "gave him thunderous applause for his honesty and embraced him," according to the AP. Garn had been instrumental in passing a series of ethics bills through the legislature.
"While this payment felt like extortion, I also felt like I should take her word that the money would help her heal," he said. "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."
After the 2002 payment, the two reportedly had little contact, though Maher would sometimes pop up asking for money, including a 2007 request that Garn pay for her to travel from her home in New Hampshire to a Utah high school reunion.
Maher, who is in the midst of what the Tribune describes as a " difficult divorce and custody battle," claims that she has come forward now not for money but closure and says she thinks other women have gone through a similar experience, a charge Garn denies.
"I can unequivocally tell you there was no physical contact, there was no touching, there was no intercourse, there was none of those things. It simply did not occur," he said, according to the newspaper.
If Garn wants to run for reelection, he must file to do so by next Friday.