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News report says resigned Utah lawmaker hired escort

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah legislators responded Thursday to a report that a Utah House member abruptly resigned Tuesday night because it was about to become public that he met an online escort for sex twice last year.

The Daily Mail, a British publication, quotes Brie Taylor saying former Rep. John Stanard, R-St. George, paid her $250 for sex twice at the Fairfield Inn in downtown Salt Lake City.

The Deseret News has not independently confirmed the allegations.

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, issued a brief statement Wednesday, saying Stanard stepped down for personal and family reasons.

"It's been a hard week," Hughes said, adding he hopes the allegations don't reflect poorly on the Legislature as a whole. He said the biggest concern lawmakers have is for Stanard's family.

Stanard, a married father of three, was approached for comment on Taylor's allegations Tuesday night, according to the Mail. The story notes that Stanard voted last year to toughen penalties for prostitution.

Stanard told the Associated Press on Wednesday that his father has terminal cancer and he resigned to spend time with him out of state. He did not respond to a text for comment Thursday.

Stanard's attorney, Wally Bugden, told the Mail: "Given the current climate in this country with misconduct allegations and the way things are happening in the media right now, there isn't any explanation that my client could give that would overcome the shadow of these allegations. He has resigned his office."

In a text message to the Deseret News, Taylor said her interview was exclusive to Shanti Das, a reporter with the South West News Service, a news wire service started in the United Kingdom and expanded to the United States.

Das, who is based in New York, declined to say whether Taylor was paid for the story.

"I don't really see how that's relevant," she said.

"We're sharing Brie's story on her behalf. She contacted us wanting to share her story," Das said. "Brie has spoken to us. She didn't want to speak to anyone else."

The Mail reported that Taylor claims Stanard first approached her on March 7, 2017, allegedly texting, "Looking at your website. Can you meet?"

In a second text, Stanard is accused of writing: "Would need to be tonight. Only in town a little. Anytime. Can do in or out. At hotel in downtown SL."

They exchanged a string of messages, but Taylor was unavailable because her 10-year-old son was sick, according to Mail. She claims they met at the Fairfield Inn the first time June 20 and again at the same place on Aug. 22. Stanard most recently texted Taylor last November, according to the story.

Both of those dates correspond with legislative interim meetings a day later, June 21 and Aug. 23. On those days, lawmakers meet in various committee meetings. During the August encounter, Stanard talked to Taylor about lawmakers trying to pass a medical marijuana bill, the Mail reported.

Questions were raised Thursday about whether taxpayer money may have been used for the hotel room where the alleged encounters took place. Lawmakers are reimbursed for travel expenses to the state Capitol for official business, including during the legislative interim.

Hughes said any misuse of public funds would be a criminal matter.

"There's no investigation that I'm aware of that way," he said, adding Stanard returned his state-issued laptop upon his resignation.

The Legislature doesn't have the ability to open an ethics investigation because Stanard is no longer a House member, Hughes said.

"I think it would be an issue," Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said about public funds being used. If the allegations turn out to be true, he said that might be "something we have to consider or even demand at that point."

Niederhauser said the Senate would follow the House's lead on dealing with the issue. There's no need for discussions among lawmakers about avoiding such situations, he said, suggesting the news coverage should be "reminder enough."

"Is this pervasive? I would say no," the Senate president said. "Obviously, this wasn’t done here or around the Capitol. It was done in his personal life somewhere. People have their personal life."

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he’s not sure the Legislature should delve into what Stanard did or didn’t do.

“The problem that I have with digging into it is that I do believe it’s primarily and fundamentally personal for Jon,” he said. “There may be a component of it that may be legislative? Maybe. I just don’t know the facts to give me a good sense of that.”

Stanard was elected to the House in 2012. He served on the House Business and Labor, Revenue and Taxation, and Rules committees. He also served on the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.

Senate Majority Leader Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said the allegations were not discussed in the House and Senate joint leadership meeting Thursday.

"I wasn't aware of it. I just saw it on the internet," Adams said. "It's so unusual. It's kind of shocking to us. I'm trying to probably just absorb it and figure out why. It's disappointing."

Adams said his association with Stanard had been professional and called him "very effective, a great legislator." He said he was a "great friend."

The majority leader said, "We need to make sure that no matter what your title is or who you are, you make good judgments. … Our life would be a lot simpler, our state would be a lot easier if people made good decisions."

House Majority Assistant Whip John Knotwell, R-Herriman, said he had no comment about the allegations after a regularly scheduled meeting of joint legislative leadership Thursday morning.

"I don't know if they're true," Knotwell said. "I don't know if they are."

Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, said this was the first he had heard of the allegations.

"I know nothing about it. I know him as well as I know most people here," Greene said. "I'm not going to comment on somebody's character on claims that I have no reason to believe are accurate."

He said "there was no reason given" for Stanard's resignation in a hastily called meeting of House members Wednesday to announce Stanard was leaving the Legislature.

"I don't know whether anyone knew at that time. This could just be speculation," Greene said.

He said it would be "inappropriate" to let the allegations taint the House.

"One person's issues are their own. It doesn't mean others they associate with have similar issues. Would it be something we had to address among journalists if one of yours had an issue? I don't think so," Greene said.