News that a Utah Republican activist is accused of raping four women two of whom say they were taken to the Heber cabin where the man hosted major political events caused ripples of unease Thursday throughout the GOP.
Gregory Nathan Peterson has hobnobbed with the likes of Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, Gov. Gary Herbert, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, and candidates such as 4th District congressional contender Mia Love.
But for the past 14 months, the 37-year-old Orem man allegedly has led a double life as a serial date-rapist.
Peterson was charged Wednesday in 3rd District Court in Salt Lake City with 23 felony counts, including rape and kidnapping, and two misdemeanors. A jail log indicates U.S. marshals arrested Peterson in his cabin in Heber and booked him into the Salt Lake County jail. He remained there Thursday in lieu of $750,000 bail.
Charging documents allege sexual assaults against four women Peterson met in Salt Lake County beginning March 26, 2011. In the first case, the documents allege, he met a woman at a church function and she agreed to go to a movie with him.
But instead of going to a theater, the documents allege, Peterson told the woman he had a gun and took her to his five-bedroom, five-bathroom, 3,000-square-foot cabin in Heber where he has hosted annual Republican barbecues and gatherings. The documents allege he sexually assaulted the woman and hit her when she did not do as he wished. Peterson drove the woman back to her vehicle the next morning.
The charges allege Peterson met another woman online and she agreed to go to a movie with him July 2, 2011. But this time Peterson threatened to expose the woman's expired immigration visa and drove her to the Heber cabin, documents allege. Peterson raped and assaulted the woman there, court papers say, then drove her to his mother's Lewiston residence in Cache County. Peterson and the woman stayed there until July 5. The documents say Peterson took the woman to her home July 8.
On Dec. 11, 2011, Peterson met a West Jordan woman for a lunch date, the documents allege, and at her home he pushed her on a couch and sexually assaulted her.
Then, on April 21 of this year, the same day as the Republican state convention, court papers say, Peterson went on a lunch date with another woman he met through an online dating website. At her home, it's alleged, Peterson grabbed the woman by the arm and dragged her to the bedroom and held her down while he unzipped his pants and exposed his penis. The woman yelled "no" and "get the hell out of my house."
Peterson is charged with two counts of aggravated kidnapping, three counts of rape, seven counts of object rape, and one count of forcible sexual abuse, all first-degree felonies; nine second-degree felony counts of forcible sexual abuse; one third-degree felony count of burglary. He also is charged with one count each of assault and sexual battery, both misdemeanors.
The rape and kidnapping charges are first-degree felonies that carry sentences of up to life in prison.
His first court appearance is set for Monday at 1:30 p.m. before Judge Ann Boyden.
Peterson is a certified financial planner and the owner of two Orem-based companies Peterson Wealth Management and Smartstocks.com, an online trading website. He holds an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from Brigham Young University.
Peterson organized the first Rocky Mountain Conservatives Convention and Barbecue in 2010 at the Heber cabin as a way to mend fences after a bruising U.S. Senate primary between Tim Bridgewater and Lee, who went on to win the seat.
The next year, about 300 people attended the event. This year, he touted the event as the "CPAC of the West," referring to the national Conservative Political Action Committee that draws thousands of activists to Washington, D.C., each year.
It featured a debate between attorney general candidates John Swallow and Sean Reyes at Wasatch High and a keynote address by Lee.
Political luminaries including Hatch, Herbert, Chaffetz and Love, as well as numerous state legislators have attended the event.
"I did know him, but not very well," said Chaffetz, who attended two of Peterson's barbecues. "A lot of us did. There were hundreds of people there. And I had a breakfast with him once, and I'd see him at political events and say hello."
Chaffetz said there was a rumor circulating about inappropriate behavior involving Peterson a few months ago, "but there was nothing ever of any substance ... just pure gossip, and now I'm reading about it in the newspaper."
"It's sad," Chaffetz said. "I worry about these women. We have an obligation to take care of them. That should be priority one."
Peterson's Facebook page featured several photos of him with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint.
Peterson has billed himself online as a "close personal friend of the Romney family" and posted video on YouTube of Romney speaking at a 2007 fundraiser at Romney's home in Deer Valley. Peterson was listed as a co-chairman of the fundraising event and he contributed $2,300 to the Romney campaign that year. In addition, he posted several photos of himself and Romney on his Facebook page.
In a 2011 audio podcast on the website LDS Liberty, Peterson was touted as a volunteer organizer and fundraiser for the Romney campaign, who had befriended Tagg and Josh Romney, Mitt's sons, at BYU, became friends with the rest of the Romney family during the 2002 Winter Olympics and had been in each of their homes.
But Chaffetz, who said he has been at most of the Romney events in Utah during the past few years, said he never saw Peterson at any of them. "I seriously doubt" he is close with the Romneys, Chaffetz said. Peterson did attend a national call day in Las Vegas, where supporters were invited to come and make phone calls for the Romney campaign, Chaffetz said.
"We are appalled at this situation," the Romney campaign said in a statement. "He hasn't been associated with our campaign since 2007. And you can believe he won't be, going forward."
Lee spokesman Brian Phillips said the freshman senator knew Peterson as a Republican activist and attended his barbecue to meet with other activists but did not consider him to be a friend or close supporter.
The Love campaign declined to comment on interactions with Peterson.
Herbert's campaign said in a statement that people shouldn't read too much into his photograph with Peterson.
"The governor has his photograph taken with thousands of people at hundreds of events every year," campaign spokesman Marty Carpenter said. "Mr. Peterson has no formal affiliation with the governor's campaign, nor has he ever. In fact, the governor declined Mr. Peterson's invitation to [his barbecue] this past spring."
Brandon Beckham, a state delegate who shot video at Peterson's 2011 event, said he learned of the rape allegations from a few women several months ago and warned GOP candidates to steer clear of Peterson while he and others got authorities involved.
"It didn't surprise me at all," Beckham said.
Beckham said one of Peterson's accusers was in the country on a visa, and Beckham added that Peterson told her that if she went to police, his political friends could get the visa revoked and have her kicked out of the country.
"I thought, 'Wow, I can't have a guy in politics like this,' and we were just determined to make sure justice was served because they needed help and support of some kind," Beckham said.
"I'm extremely disturbed," said Darcy Van Orden, a conservative activist who had attended Peterson's barbecues in the past. "I believe in innocent until proven guilty, but having talked to several people and heard a lot of allegations about this for basically the last six months, I was kind of waiting to see this thing play itself out."
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Thursday morning that he didn't know why it took 14 months to arrest Peterson after the first alleged rape. He said the victims filed reports with various police forces including Wasatch County, where Peterson's cabin is but that Salt Lake County's Unified Police Department led the investigation into Peterson's alleged crimes.
"We were able to sort of identify multiple, different reports and that they were part of the same investigation," Gill said.
Court documents indicate that the woman in the alleged episode on July 2, 2011, applied for a stalking injunction against Peterson on June 12 of this year. The documents do not indicate what prompted the woman to seek an injunction on that date. Third District Judge Andrew Stone made no findings in the case, but Peterson stipulated to the injunction, which barred him from being near the woman, her home or car.
Gill said there is a fifth woman who has claimed Peterson sexually assaulted her, but charges were not filed in that case. Gill said prosecutors were concerned they would not be able to demonstrate the woman did not give consent.
The fifth woman, Gill said, told Peterson she "felt uncomfortable and that was the only thing she said."
Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, responded to the allegations against Peterson by noting that nearly 90 percent of sexual assault victims knew their assailant in some way, according to a 2007 report, "Rape in Utah," commissioned by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.
"The notion that rapists attack randomly, hide in back seats of cars or in bushes is a myth," Mullen said. "Both adults and children are typically assaulted by family members, friends, work colleagues, classmates and others who gain trust through grooming their victims in a clear and calculating way."
Tribune reporter Tom Harvey contributed to this story.