By Emily Jane Fox
A new investigation may answer some of the many questions left lingering after longtime former Speaker of the HouseDennis Hastert admitted to making a series of secret, illegal payments to keep an unnamed individual quiet. The Illinois Republican pleaded guilty last year to skirting federal banking laws by taking money out of bank accounts in small enough increments so he could get around mandatory reporting requirements and keep a decades-old transgression hidden.
A new report from The Chicago Tribune unearths Hastert’s apparent secret. The Tribune reported Tuesday that at least four people have alleged Hastert sexually abused them when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach at a high school in an Illinois suburb in the 1970s. The individuals were all men and teenagers at the time of the alleged abuse, which reportedly occurred long before Hastert was elected to Congress.
Some of the allegations may come into public view, as a federal judge prepares to sentence Hastert on the banking violation charges later this month. The longest-serving Republican House Speaker has not been charged with harming a child or anything related to the alleged abuses. The Tribune reported the statue of limitations likely may have run out. But the far lesser yet seemingly related banking charge shed light on Hastert’s alleged dark secret when the federal indictment was unsealed last year.
Hastert’s attorneys asked the federal judge Wednesday, before theTribune’s investigation was published, to sentence their client to probation, claiming he has already been punished by his own shame and humiliation, and pointing to his deteriorating health.
In response to the latest report, Hastert attorney Tom Green told theTribune that his client regretted his decisions, but did not discuss the allegations of sexual abuse. “Mr. Hastert has made mistakes in judgment and committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry,” Green said in a statement. “He fully understands the gravity of his misconduct decades ago and regrets that he resorted to … an effort to prevent the disclosure of that misconduct.”
The Tribune reported that in 2010, Hastert agreed to pay one of the individuals, who was coached by the former congressman on his wrestling team, $3.5 million in what is described as an out-of-court settlement agreement. Hastert reportedly made 15 $50,000 cash withdrawals over two years—enough that bank officials alerted him that these large sums had to be reported to regulators. At the time, Hastert had been meeting the individual every month and a half or so to deliver the cash payments. In order to keep the hush-money just that, apparently, and avoid having to go through regulators to explain the payments, Hastert allegedly began making the payments in increments of $10,000. This, while illegal, allegedly allowed Hastert to evade the requirements and keep up his payments, according to theTribune. In this period, Hastert made 106 such withdrawals. By December of 2014, when F.B.I. agents questioned Hastert, he had reportedly paid the individual roughly $1.7 million.
Hastert, 74, will be sentenced on April 27. Prosecutors in the case have recommended up six months in prison based on sentencing guidelines on the banking charge, though U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkinhas said he could sentence the former politician to as many as five years in prison.