Former Speaker Dennis Hastert Sentenced To 15 Months In Prison
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has been sentenced to fifteen months in Federal prison for his conviction on bank fraud charges related to an effort to cover-up decades old incidents of sexual abuse from the time when Hastert was a High School wrestling coach:
CHICAGO —A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert to 15 months in federal prison — a term above what even prosecutors had recommended and one that clearly takes into account the sexual abuse allegations that generated the criminal case against the Illinois Republican.
The sentencing marked an ignominious moment in the life of a man who was once a revered high school teacher and wrestling coach in Illinois and who ascended into the highest ranks of American politics. Even before the hearing, prosecutors had revealed in court filings how Hastert allegedly had molested or inappropriately touched five teenagers affiliated with the wrestling team he coached decades ago. U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin had indicated that he would consider that in handing down an appropriate punishment.
Hastert, reading from a prepared statement, told the judge that he was “deeply ashamed” to be in court. He acknowledged that he “mistreated some of the athletes I coached.”
“The thing I want to do is say I’m sorry to those I’ve hurt and misled,” he said. “They looked at me, and I took advantage of them.”
Durkin pressed him further, asking him if he had sexually abused the students. Hastert was hesitant.
Of Scott Cross, who spoke in court, he said: “I don’t remember doing that, but I accept his statement.”
He acknowledged abusing another victim, but hemmed and hawed about Steven Reinboldt, whose sister has shared his story publicly. “It’s a different situation, sir,” Hastert said, before ultimately acknowledging that he had sexually abused Reinboldt.
Earlier in court, Cross, 53, a married father of two, told a judge how Hastert, who also is married and has two children, had abused him during his senior year of high school. Cross, who wrestled on a team Hastert coached, said he ended up alone in a locker room with Hastert when he stayed late to try to shed weight, and Hastert offered to help with a massage.
Cross said that while he was lying on a training table, Hastert pulled down his shorts and touched him in a sexual way.
“I was stunned by what he was doing,” Cross said.
Cross said he “did not say anything to anyone.”
“As a 17-year-old boy, I was devastated,” he said. “I tried to figure out why Coach Hastert had singled me out.”Cross, whose brother is a former Illinois legislator and who himself works in financial services, said that he felt “pain, shame and guilt” for years and that he confided in his brother and wife about what happened only after the criminal case against Hastert emerged.
He said he had trouble sleeping and working, but came forward because he wanted the judge to know what happened, and he wanted his children to know that “there’s an alternative to staying silent.”
“I wanted you to know the pain and suffering he caused me then, and still causes me today,” Cross said.
Hastert, 74, who arrived at the federal courthouse Wednesday morning in a wheelchair, did not plead guilty to any sex crimes. Rather, he admitted in October that he had withdrawn money in increments that would allow him to avoid having to report it — itself a crime carrying a maximum five-year sentence. The money, investigators would come to learn, was meant to buy the silence of a man who alleged Hastert had victimized him as a youth.
Prosecutors had recommended Hastert face zero to six months in prison; defense attorneys had advocated for probation. In court filings, Hastert’s attorneys wrote that their client, who is in poor health, was deeply ashamed of what he had done.
Thomas Green, an attorney for Hastert, said in a recent statement: “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.”
The investigation of Hastert started three years ago, when FBI and IRS investigators received a tip that he had been withdrawing money in suspicious amounts and not telling bank officials truthfully why. Prosecutors wrote that investigators initially wondered whether Hastert was being extorted, and Hastert claimed as much after they interviewed him. He pointed the finger at a man he said was making false claims about sex abuse.
All of those alleging Hastert abused or touched them inappropriately were teenagers when the abuse occurred decades ago. The U.S. probation office found “no evidence of any sexual misconduct since approximately 1979,” which is before Hastert entered elective office, court filings show.
Given the fact that the statute of limitations had long ago expired on any criminal charges that could have been brought against Hastert related to the actual charges of molestation, this was perhaps the harshest sentence that he could have received under the circumstances. Indeed, had Hastert been charged with these crimes thirty years ago when they happened, he likely would have received a far harsher sentence than what he received today, but given the sentencing guidelines, which the Judge is free to ignore if the factual basis exists for doing so, and the recommendation of the U.S. Attorney it is clear that Judge Durkin used his discretionary authority to enhance the sentence to a point that at least took into account the nature of the underlying charges against Hastert as best he could. The only unfortunate thing is that it took three decades for justice to be done in this case.