Federal prosecutors say former House Speaker Dennis Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to silence an individual who he sexually abused when the victim was a teenager. He is also being accused of sexually molesting five other teenagers while he was a high school teacher in the 60’s and 70’s. (Reuters)
Federal prosecutors on Friday detailed some of the lurid allegations of sexual misconduct against former U.S. House speaker Dennis Hastert and asked a federal judge to subject the Illinois Republican to a sex offender evaluation.
In a memo in advance of an April 27 sentencing hearing, prosecutors spelled out in graphic detail how Hastert sexually molested or inappropriately touched five teenagers who trusted him as their wrestling coach. And as Hastert rose to power, believing that his wrongdoing would never be made public, his victims struggled with the effects of the abuse, prosecutors wrote.
“He made them feel alone, ashamed, guilty and devoid of dignity,” prosecutors wrote. “While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them.”
Hastert, 74, pleaded guilty last year to violating federal banking laws, admitting in a deal with prosecutors that he withdrew money from banks in increments low enough to avoid mandatory reporting requirements. That charge, though, always belied the case’s actual underpinnings.
A federal law enforcement official has said Hastert withdrew the money so he could pay off someone he sexually molested decades ago. And after the first victim emerged, more people came forward alleging that they or their relatives were also victimized by the Yorkville, Ill., high school teacher and coach.
Prosecutors detailed remarkably similar stories from each of the now-grown men.
One — who said he was a 14-year-old freshman when the abuse occurred — alleged that Hastert told him to get on a table so he could “loosen him up,” then massaged and performed a sex act on him. Another — who said he was 17 years old when the abuse occurred — alleged that Hastert offered him a massage to help him cut weight, then performed a sex act on him. That victim said Hastert kept a chair in direct view of the locker room shower stalls.
A third man said that Hastert brushed his genitals after a wrestling practice and that it was “very weird,” though he was not sure whether it was done intentionally. The man whom Hastert paid off alleged that Hastert touched him inappropriately in a motel room on a trip. The fifth victim, prosecutors said, is deceased, but his sister has alleged publicly that her brother confided in her that his first same-sex experience was with Hastert.
Prosecutors urged a judge to consider all that abuse, even though Hastert’s financial dealings — withdrawing money in increments of less that $10,000 to avoid reporting requirements — ultimately formed the basis of the charge against him.
“The federal and state statutes of limitations have long expired on potential charges relating to defendant’s known sexual acts against Individual A and other minors,” prosecutors wrote. “With this case, the government seeks to hold defendant accountable for the crimes he committed that can still be prosecuted: defendant’s structuring of cash withdrawals and his lies to the government about that activity.”
Prosecutors and defense attorneys had already agreed that federal sentencing guidelines in the case called for a prison term between zero and six months, and prosecutors recommended a term inside that range Friday, coupled with a sex offender assessment. A federal judge is not bound by that recommendation and could sentence Hastert to as much as five years in prison.
Hastert’s defense attorneys earlier this week urged a term only of probation, arguing that Hastert was in poor health and already thoroughly shamed and remorseful over his wrongdoing.
“He knows that, for the rest of his life, wherever he goes, the public warmth and affection that he previously received will be replaced by hostility and isolation,” Hastert’s attorneys wrote.
In a statement on Saturday, Thomas Green, Hastert’s defense attorney, said: “Mr. Hastert acknowledges that as a young man he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry. He earnestly apologizes to his former students, family, friends, previous constituents and all others affected by the harm his actions have caused.”
In their memo, prosecutors also spelled out for the first time how investigators came to learn of the abuse.
In 2012, prosecutors wrote, a bank official noticed the former House speaker had made seven $50,000 cash withdrawals over a two-year stretch, and bank officials soon contacted Hastert to ask for more information. Hastert, prosecutors said, began making smaller withdrawals that would not trigger mandatory reporting requirements — a federal crime that drew the attention of FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents. They wondered at first whether Hastert might be the victim of extortion, prosecutors wrote.
When FBI agents interviewed Hastert at his Plano, Ill., home in December 2014, Hastert justified his withdrawals by saying the bank gave him a “a real hassle” about taking out $50,000 at a time, prosecutors wrote. Some time later, though, his attorney reached out to say that Hastert was being extorted by a former Yorkville High School student and wrestler who alleged that Hastert inappropriately touched him during a wrestling trip.
By prosecutors’ account, the FBI tried to guide Hastert on recorded calls with that person, but Hastert did not always follow their instructions. And the man on the other end of the line, prosecutors wrote, did not strike FBI agents as an extortionist. When agents interviewed him in 2015, he told them that Hastert had abused him on a wrestling trip as a child, and after he confronted Hastert many years later, they worked out a financial arrangement so he would keep quiet. Hastert ultimately paid him $1.7 million.