Republican activist Gregory Nathan Peterson accused of sexually assaulting four women whom he had asked out on dates made his first appearance in 3rd District Court on Monday.
Peterson, 37, is charged with 23 felonies and two misdemeanors for alleged crimes dating back about 14 months.
He appeared before Judge Ann Boyden with defense attorneys Cara Tangaro and Gerald Salcido, who requested a hearing to argue that Peterson's bail should be reduced.
Peterson who is being held at the Salt Lake County jail in lieu of $750,000 bail stood quietly in his yellow jail jumpsuit with his hands cuffed behind his back during the brief hearing where his attorneys waived formal reading of the charges.
Boyden set a bail hearing for 2 p.m. Wednesday before Judge Katherine Bernards-Goodman.
Peterson's attorneys said they believe the bail amount is excessive, as their client is not a danger to the community or a flight risk. They also claimed Peterson's bail is much higher than other defendants who have faced similar charges.
After the hearing, Tangaro told news reporters: "Our client is maintaining that nothing illegal has happened."
Tangaro said she believes prosecutors are trying to make an example of Peterson, and that all four of the alleged victims will be discredited as more information emerges.
Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Joseph Hill insisted Peterson is not being singled out.
"He's no different from any other person we prosecute on a daily basis," Hill said, noting that he believes the state has a compelling case against Peterson.
He said the charges are "very serious" and that his office will be prosecuting them "very aggressively."
Hill said no new victims have come forward since Peterson's arrest became public last week.
According to charging documents:
• In March 2011, Peterson drove a woman he met at a church activity in Draper to his cabin in Heber, when she had only agreed to go with him to a movie. During the drive, Peterson told the woman he had a concealed weapons permit and pointed to the center console of his car where he reportedly kept a gun. At the cabin, Peterson assaulted and raped the woman.
•Â In July 2011, Peterson took a woman to a movie in Sandy. He later asked her to go out to dinner, but instead drove to the Heber cabin and raped her. The woman said he threatened to have her deported for an expired visa. The next day he forced her to go to his mother's house in Lewiston, where he continued to sexually assault her over the next two days.
• In December 2011, Peterson was supposed to go on a lunch date with a woman he met through an online dating site. Peterson walked into her West Jordan home, pushed her onto the couch and sexually assaulted her after she told him to stop.
• On April 21, 2012, Peterson met with another woman he met through a dating website. He pushed her down on the bed in her Salt Lake City home and grabbed her. After a struggle, the woman managed to get him out of her house.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he reviewed a fifth woman's case involving allegations from August 2009, but declined to prosecute because he could not prove that she didn't consent to having sex with Peterson. The fifth woman, Gill said, told Peterson she "felt uncomfortable, and that was the only thing she said."
Peterson, of Orem, is a certified financial planner and the owner of Peterson Wealth Management and Smartstocks.com, an online trading website. He holds an MBA in finance and entrepreneurship from Brigham Young University.
He has also been a fixture at Utah Republican events.
Peterson organized the Rocky Mountain Conservatives Convention and Barbecue two years ago at his Heber cabin as a way to make peace in the party after a bitter U.S. Senate fight between Tim Bridgewater and Mike Lee, the eventual winner.
The event was also held in 2011 and again this year, when Peterson touted it as the "CPAC of the West," referring to the national Conservative Political Action Committee that annually draws thousands of activists to Washington, D.C.
Prominent Utah politicians, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, Gov. Gary Herbert, Rep. Jason Chaffetz and congressional candidate Mia Love, have attended the event, which this year featured a debate between attorney general candidates John Swallow and Sean Reyes at Wasatch High and a keynote address by Lee.
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 as a "close personal friend of the Romney family," a claim that Chaffetz said he doubts.
Peterson's name first came to Wasatch County law enforcement officials last summer, when a woman claimed he had sexually assaulted her at the Heber cabin, where Peterson often held party functions.
Faced with a he-said, she-said situation, Wasatch County Attorney Scott Sweat said he declined to file charges, believing he lacked the evidence to prove the allegation in court.
But Gill said the combined allegations of Peterson's four alleged victims allowed him to bring a case based on a pattern of criminal behavior.
"These are difficult crimes to put together, and difficult crimes to prosecute," Gill said. "When you look at them in isolation, sometimes you have nothing more than allegations of one person against another person."
Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, said Friday the allegations against Peterson show there is no typical profile for alleged rapists, and that many such crimes are committed by someone the victims knows.
She said many rape cases continue to go unreported because victims have faced trouble in being believed and often face blame, questions and scrutiny by society.