Updated on April 27 at 2:05 p.m. ET
Describing the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House as a “serial child molester,” a federal judge in Chicago sentenced Dennis Hastert to 15 months in prison on Wednesday for lying to investigators and evading federal banking regulations as part of a scheme to cover up decades-old sexual abuse.
Judge Thomas Durkin also imposed two years’ supervised release, a $250,000 fine, and attendance in a sex-offender treatment program. Hastert faced five years in prison for the charges under federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors had requested a maximum of six months, while the former politician’s defense team asked for probation, citing his age, 74, and health woes.
Before entering politics, Hastert taught high school in Illinois and coached a wrestling team between 1965 and 1981. At least four members of the team have now accused him of sexually abusing them; one of them filed a lawsuit for $1.8 million in compensation on Monday.
The court heard stunning testimony during the hearing from Scott Cross, previously known as “Individual D” in court filings, before the judge handed down his sentence. Cross testified publicly for the first time that Hastert molested him decades earlier as a teenager. “As a 17 year old boy, I was devastated,” he told the court. “I felt intense pain, shame, and guilt.”
“I don’t remember doing that, but I accept his statement,” Hastert said when asked about Cross’s allegations during Wednesday’s hearings.
Scott’s brother, Tom Cross, served as the Illinois House GOP leader for 11 years and was a political protégé of Hastert during his political career. According to the Chicago Tribune, Hastert asked his former friend and ally to write a letter of support for his sentencing; he received no response.
Hastert has not faced criminal charges for the acts, which now fall outside the statute of limitations. None of the acts occurred during his 30-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The court also heard from Jolene Burdge, whose brother, Stephen Reinboldt, had told her about repeated instances of abuse. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1995. From the stand on Wednesday, she demanded Hastert admit what he had done to her brother and “tell the truth.”
Hastert addressed the court last and apologized for “mistreating athletes.” When Durkin pointedly asked him whether he had sexually abused them, Hastert simply answered, “Yes.”
The 74-year-old former politician’s downfall came not from the allegations of sexual abuse themselves, but from his efforts to cover them up:
In or about 2010, according to the indictment, Hastert—a former high-school teacher and coach—met with an unnamed individual from Yorkville, Hastert’s hometown. They “discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier.” In effect, Hastert fell victim to blackmail, the indictment alleges: He “agreed to provide Individual A $3.5 million in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.” (Since leaving the House, Hastert has become a highly paid lobbyist.)
After the 2010 meeting with Individual A, Hastert allegedly began withdrawing cash from his bank accounts to pay to the individual. But federal laws require financial institutions to report transactions greater than $10,000, and Hastert made a series of them. In April 2012, the indictment alleges, employees of Hastert’s bank questioned him about the withdrawals, and he promptly reduced his withdrawals to smaller amounts, to escape the requirement. Authorities were already watching, however, and they began investigating Hastert for structuring currency transactions to evade federal requirements—itself a crime.
Federal prosecutors indicted Hastert last May for lying to FBI agents and evading banking regulations on cash withdrawals. He pled guilty in October.
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