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Rep. Matt Manweller accused of underage relationship with former student

A former Idaho high school student of embattled Washington legislator and longtime educator Rep. Matt Manweller (R-Cle Elum) says she had a sexual relationship with him beginning after she graduated in 1997, when she was 17 years old and he was a decade her senior. Under Idaho state law at the time, sex between an adult male and a female younger than 18 constituted statutory rape.

The former high school student’s allegations were never reported to police, and the criminal statute of limitations on them has long since passed. This is the first time these allegations are being made public.

Manweller, who is running for re-election this fall, has been dogged by allegations of inappropriate behavior with his students spanning more than a decade. He was recently fired from his post as a tenured political science professor at Central Washington University (CWU) following a recent investigation that found he engaged in a “pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior” with current and former students. Manweller has repeatedly denied these allegations and is now suing for wrongful termination; he’s accused the university of pursuing a partisan-driven investigation into his workplace conduct in the midst of an election cycle.

Manweller's response to that investigation is part of what motivated the woman to come forward with her story.

“I don’t think I would have finally been OK with telling this had he just accepted the consequences and been like ‘I need to change my behavior,’” the woman said in an interview earlier this month.

In recent months, Manweller has continued to raise money for his re-election campaign and received 63 percent of the vote in the August primary. And while House Republican leaders—who sanctioned Manweller in December after he was put on leave at CWU—have said they are monitoring the situation, they have also insisted that voters will decide whether Manweller remains in the legislature come fall.

The former student, a woman who still lives in Idaho and spoke to the Northwest News Network on the condition of anonymity, is the second former high school student of Manweller’s to describe a romantic relationship with him.

OraLynn Reeve, Manweller’s first wife, told the Northwest News Network, The Olympian and The News Tribune in December that she started dating Manweller at the end of her senior year when she was 18 and he no longer taught at her school in Utah. The couple later divorced.

When contacted by the Northwest News Network, Manweller denied that he had a sexual relationship with the former Idaho student when she was 17, or anyone else under 18. The lawmaker acknowledged that he once taught the woman in Idaho, but declined to respond to 43 other questions regarding her allegations.

“I am not Brett Kavanaugh,” Manweller said in an email, referring to the Supreme Court nominee who has been accused of sexually assaulting a fellow high school student in the early 1980s. “I will not be answering any further media questions about someone I met 25 years ago.”

Still, it appears Manweller scrambled to deal with the new allegations. Shortly after the Northwest News Network reached out to him for this story, Manweller tried to call the former Idaho student and sent her a one-word text: “Thanks.” The following day, Manweller sent the woman another text that said he was planning to release to the Northwest News Network a series of Facebook messages she sent him a few years ago during a troubled time in her life.

At the time of publication, Manweller had not released those messages.

‘A comfortable, familiar relationship’

The Idaho woman graduated from Wood River High School in Hailey, near Sun Valley, where Manweller taught for four years during the mid-to-late 1990s.

The Northwest News Network first contacted the woman in December following reports that Manweller had been put on leave at CWU pending the latest investigation into his conduct toward female students. Manweller had previously been investigated by the university in 2012 and 2013 after allegations surfaced that he had sexually harassed female students, though there were no formal findings against him. She did not initially respond.

But the woman, 38, said she decided to come forward in recent weeks after hearing Manweller’s response to the latest investigation's findings. That included a video he posted to his campaign website in which he accused the university of “manufacturing allegations” and called the allegations “trivial” in nature.

“I have no ill will towards him,” said the woman, a registered Republican who said she generally agrees with Manweller's political views. “I just don’t think it’s OK to keep pushing, acting like nothing’s happened when clearly stuff has happened.”

The woman said she did not want to be named because she did not want to be linked to the lawmaker publicly, though she did allow the Northwest News Network to use her name when addressing her claims with Manweller and to corroborate her story with others.

The Idaho woman said she first met Manweller as a freshman at Wood River High School during the 1993-1994 school year. Manweller was a newly hired 24-year-old social studies teacher. She took a geography class from him and recalled that he was charismatic in the classroom.

“As a freshman, he just seemed like one of those teachers who gets you excited about learning,” the woman said recently during an interview in southern Idaho, where she now lives with her husband and children.

caption: Manweller's former student says Manweller wrote this message in her junior yearbook telling her not to flirt with "all the guys" at the store she worked part-time.
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Manweller's former student says Manweller wrote this message in her junior yearbook telling her not to flirt with "all the guys" at the store she worked part-time.
Northwest News Network/Austin Jenkins

In her sophomore year, the woman said she worked as a teaching assistant for Manweller, after which, she said, she took at least three more classes from him junior and senior years. During her junior year, the woman said Manweller happened to move into a place across the street from her family’s home. She would see him from time to time out in front of their houses, but said their interactions were brief.

Still, over time, the two developed a “teasing” relationship, the woman said. As an example of their rapport, she recalled showing up exhausted one morning her senior year for Manweller’s class after a late night studying for finals. She had put her shirt on backwards and asked him if she could go to the bathroom to change. Before he let her go, she said he called her over.

“He held me in front of the whole class and was like [she] ‘was so tired she put her shirt on backwards’ and, like, flipped up the tag to show everyone and then he let me go,” the woman said.

She said it was the kind of thing her dad or brothers would do.

“It was a comfortable, familiar relationship, but nothing I would have categorized as inappropriate,” she said.

While at the time she viewed their interactions as unremarkable, looking back the woman said she was “oblivious” and missed certain signs. One of these signs, she said, was when Manweller signed her junior yearbook with a message that included the line, “Don’t flirt with all the guys” at the store where she worked part-time.

The woman showed the Northwest News Network the yearbook and Manweller’s message.

“I think that’s implying [that] I flirted with him when he was in there,” the woman said recently. “But I don’t really remember it that way—just remember it as joking around.”

By her senior year, the woman said Manweller was no longer living across the street from her family and she had developed a bit of a crush on him.

“He was attractive and he was older and he was unattainable,” said the woman.

The woman showed the Northwest News Network a copy of her senior year school ID. It shows a smiling brunette who looks more like a young teen than a mature 17-year-old.

At the end of her senior year, Manweller wrote again in her yearbook.

“There is a part of me that will always think of you as the little freshman that walked into my geo class four years ago.” Manweller wrote in the message viewed by the Northwest News Network.

“I know that you will be one of the students that I miss next year.” He wrote his school email address at the bottom.

caption: In the Idaho woman's senior yearbook, she says Manweller wrote a message telling her he would miss her.
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In the Idaho woman's senior yearbook, she says Manweller wrote a message telling her he would miss her.
Northwest News Network/Austin Jenkins

‘This is our secret’

But Manweller wouldn’t be returning to Wood River High School the following year. He soon accepted a teaching job in Hurricane, Utah, beginning the next fall.

The relationship, according to the woman, started that summer, after Manweller saw her one evening in mid-June 1997 changing the sign outside the business where she worked.

The woman said Manweller told her about his new job and that he’d be leaving at the end of the summer. According to a 1997 journal entry the woman showed to the Northwest News Network, Manweller gave her a “bear hug” and told her he was going through “withdrawals” over not seeing her. “He kept calling me sweetie and cutie, which was weird,” the journal entry reads.

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The woman said Manweller told her that he’d like to “hang out” with her before he left for Utah. She wrote in her journal that he asked her, “R u sure your Mom wouldn’t care?”

The woman said the next week they went on a hike together, and on the way down the mountain she tripped and scraped her chin. “I felt so stupid,” she wrote in her journal at the time. Afterwards, she said, he invited her to his house for a barbeque and that evening, the woman said, they kissed and had sex for the first time.

“It was a full on, we were sleeping together everything kind of relationship,” the woman said.

The Idaho woman said both she and Manweller took care to keep their relationship hidden from her parents and the broader community in their small mountain town. Instead of calling her at home, she said, Manweller would call her at work—this was before cell phones were ubiquitous—and they went on dates to nearby Twin Falls, where they were less likely to be seen.

On one date to Twin Falls, the woman said they went to see the movie “Men In Black” and Manweller spotted her former boyfriend while buying tickets. He got “nervous,” the woman said. She provided the Northwest News Network a photograph of her journal entry recounting that experience and of the ticket stub from the movie.

caption: This excerpt from an entry in the woman's journal describes Matt Manweller's reaction when he saw the woman's ex-boyfriend at the movies in Twin Falls, Idaho in July 1997.
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This excerpt from an entry in the woman's journal describes Matt Manweller's reaction when he saw the woman's ex-boyfriend at the movies in Twin Falls, Idaho in July 1997.
Northwest News Network/Austin Jenkins
caption: The Idaho woman saved her ticket stub from a movie she said she went to in Twin Falls, Idaho in July 1997 with her former teacher Matt Manweller.
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The Idaho woman saved her ticket stub from a movie she said she went to in Twin Falls, Idaho in July 1997 with her former teacher Matt Manweller.
Northwest News Network/Austin Jenkins

“I remember him saying once, ‘We can’t tell anyone because even though I’m moving to another school, I’m still technically employed with Wood River until the end of the summer,’” she said.

Amber Capozzi, a former classmate and co-worker who lived in the same complex as Manweller, said she frequently saw the woman’s red car parked in front of Manweller’s unit. She assumed they were having a relationship.

“There was no reason for her car to be in front of his house, it was parked [there] several nights a week,” Capozzi said. “She never came out and said ‘We’re having an affair,’ but it was always ‘Matt this and Matt that,’” Capozzi said.

Capozzi described Manweller as “flirtatious” and said “all the girls had a crush on him.” She added that he capitalized on that. “He really wanted to be the cool teacher, I think he thrived on the girls swooning over him,” Capozzi recalled recently.

The Idaho woman said Manweller eventually gave her his garage door opener “so that we could hang out and no one would know.” She kept the opener and showed it to the Northwest News Network as evidence of their relationship.

But the woman did tell at least one person about the relationship at the time. A former classmate and friend of the woman, who also asked not to be identified for fear of career repercussions, told the Northwest News Network that she learned of the relationship from the woman while it was ongoing in the summer of 1997.

Later, the Idaho woman said she also told her husband about it. In a separate interview, the woman’s husband said that shortly after they married in 2002, she informed him of her relationship with Manweller.

“She did tell me that she was under 18 at the time that they started their relationship. It was a sexual relationship while she was still under 18,” he said.

At his house, the woman said she and Manweller watched movies, cooked meals and regularly had sex. She said it didn’t occur to her at the time that Manweller’s involvement with her—a 17-year-old former student—might not have been legal.

Rather than feeling pressured to have sex with him, the woman said she enjoyed the clandestine nature of the relationship. “I’m sure I was a fairly willing participant,” she said.

The woman said she only recently began to rethink her relationship with Manweller, in part because she now has school-age children herself.

“I don’t feel like I was a victim, but I do feel like teachers have a responsibility to protect the boundaries with their students,” she said.

caption: Manweller denies allegations of sexual relationship with underage former student
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Manweller denies allegations of sexual relationship with underage former student
Washington legislature

A move to Utah

According to the woman, in early August 1997 Manweller moved to southwest Utah to begin his new teaching job. The woman said she had planned to attend the University of Idaho, but changed her mind in the middle of the summer and also decided to move to Utah.

She took a job at a call center in Orem, south of Salt Lake City, while she tried to get residency with the goal of attending college there.

Orem was about three-and-a-half hours north of Hurricane, where Manweller was teaching. She said she and Manweller continued dating that fall and would see each other on some weekends. The woman turned 18 that October, and she said they continued dating into the spring. 

On one visit to Hurricane in the spring of 1998, the woman met Manweller’s future wife—OraLynn Reeve—who was working as the manager for the soccer team he coached. Both women recalled leaving a soccer game and taking Manweller’s car to get lunch that day. The woman said she was struck by how much they had in common and even how much they looked alike.

“I remember thinking I’d be jealous of her if she wasn’t 16, which was really stupid because he went on to marry her,” the Idaho woman said of Reeve.

Reeve, in a separate interview, confirmed meeting the woman, remembered her first name, and recalled that they both talked about growing up in the same faith community. Reeve said it was her understanding that the woman was Manweller’s girlfriend, although she guessed she was in her 20s. Reeve also said that Manweller kept in touch with the woman even after they were married. She and Manweller divorced in 2009.

“It always kind of bothered me, but I never pushed the issue,” Reeve said, adding that she never asked where the two had met and was not aware that the woman had been Manweller’s student.

At the end of the 1997-1998 school year, Manweller was preparing to leave his job in Utah after only one year to move to Montana to attend graduate school. The woman said she didn’t want to join him and was beginning to question his maturity and commitment to her.

“At that point it was kind of registering to me that it just wasn’t going to be a long term thing, it wasn’t going to work out,” she said.

She said they parted ways amicably and reconnected a couple of times that summer back in Hailey before Manweller moved to Montana. By then, the woman had also left Utah and returned to Idaho to attend Boise State University. The woman showed the Northwest News Network a greeting card Manweller sent her from Montana in the fall of 1998.

“Hope you are having fun at B.S.U. or that at least it’s better than the Orem experience!” he wrote. He signed the card “Love, Mathew.”

‘He knew better, he was older’

Over the years, the woman said, she and Manweller remained friendly and occasionally kept in touch. She said Manweller let her know in 2000 when he was getting married. She guessed, before he could tell her, that it was Reeve.

“I was like ‘Is she graduated’ and he said ‘Yeah,’” she recalled. “I didn’t really think too much of it.”

The woman said she always assumed Manweller would run for public office and wasn’t surprised that he eventually became a state lawmaker. In fact, she said they’d had a long-running joke about how he would eventually pay her to keep the story of their relationship a secret.

“I’m waiting until you run for president and then you’re gonna pay me to not tell that story,” she said she would tell him. “Yeah, I joked with him about that quite a bit.”

Most recently, she said, she contacted Manweller after the Northwest News Network called her husband in an attempt to find her last December. She said she wanted to know why reporters were trying to contact her.

She said Manweller kept checking back after that to see if any other reporters had tried to reach her. She said she told him at the time she had no intention of telling her story.

“It’s been ingrained in me for so long that this is our secret,” she said.

But the woman said that she hopes telling her story now will support the credibility of anyone who feels they've been the subject of inappropriate behavior. The process hasn't been easy, she said. She said she wouldn't be doing it otherwise.

“He knew better, he was older,” she said. “In a weird sort of a way, it’s been very healing to let go of a lot of baggage I didn’t realize I was carrying.”

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