Former prosecutor: Hastert situation was avoidable
Federal charges accusing former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert of mishandling $1.7 million in hush money revolve around one thing -- cash, a federal legal expert said.
Reflecting on the charges, former U.S. attorney Patrick Collins speculated the Republican from Plano legally could have entered into a settlement agreement with "Individual A," the unnamed person federal authorities say Hastert was paying off.
Had Hastert written a check compensating an individual, "we wouldn't be here," said Collins, partner in the Perkins Coie law firm, who was not involved in the case surrounding Hastert.
Federal authorities charged the former congressman with structuring -- withdrawing lesser amounts of cash in an attempt to circumvent reporting requirements -- which often accompanies charges of money laundering, drugs or tax violations.
Federal law requires banks to report withdrawals of more than $10,000 to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which monitors the transactions. And the law prohibits people from structuring.
Prosecutors say Hastert made fifteen $50,000 withdrawals from his accounts between June 2010 and April 2012 and gave the cash to "Individual A" every six weeks. After bank officials questioned him about the transactions, prosecutors say Hastert began withdrawing cash in increments of less than $10,000, which likely triggered the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service inquiry that began in 2013.
Questioned by federal authorities in December 2014, Hastert told them he was keeping the cash for himself, said prosecutors, who claim that was a lie.
Continuing to make withdrawals after bank officials questioned him "is powerful evidence," Collins said.
As for why authorities have not elaborated on Hastert's motive for allegedly paying off "Individual A," Collins said the "misconduct" cited in the federal indictment might have been beyond the statute of limitations. And, he said, authorities don't need evidence of motive to show someone acted intentionally.
"It's not relevant," he said. "It's made all of us curious, but the misconduct in this instance is not relevant when it comes to the charges."