Hastert guilty, prosecutors seek up to 6-month sentence
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty today to violating federal banking laws in exchange for prosecutors recommending a prison sentence of zero to six months.
Hastert answered "no" clearly and loudly when U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin asked whether anyone had coerced him or promised him anything, other than the agreement with prosecutors, in exchange for his guilty plea.
Hastert, of Plano, admitted he violated the law while paying $1.7 million to someone known only as "Individual A" to keep quiet about Hastert's past misconduct.
The nature of that misconduct has never been discussed in court, and while a guilty plea was widely seen as an attempt to keep it that way, prosecutors appeared to leave open the possibility it could come up in Hastert's Feb. 29 sentencing.
According to Hastert's agreement with prosecutors, "the government will make known all matters in aggravation and mitigation relevant to sentencing." Assistant U.S. attorney Steven Block said he did not know if the government will call any witnesses and a U.S. attorney spokesman declined to comment on whether the government will call "Individual A."
Hastert's attorneys said they do not anticipate calling witnesses during the sentencing hearing.
The Associated Press reported the payments were to silence allegations of sexual misconduct while Hastert was a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School.
The guilty plea marks a spectacular fall from grace for the onetime state representative who rose to become one of the nation's most powerful leaders as the longest-serving Republican House speaker.
After charges were made public in May, Hastert resigned from his Washington, D.C., lobbying job and his name was removed from a government and public policy center at his alma mater, Wheaton College.
At Wednesday's hearing, Durkin pointed out he is not bound by the government's sentencing recommendation.
"The final decision rests with me," he said. "I may sentence you to a longer or shorter sentence than you expect."
Durkin donated a total of $1,500 to Hastert's election campaigns in 2002 and 2004 and worked with Hastert's son Ethan Hastert when Durkin was a partner at Mayer Brown, a Chicago law firm.
The judge, who is also a former federal prosecutor and the brother of longtime Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, offered months ago to recuse himself from the case, though he said he could be impartial.
At that time, neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys raised objections to him continuing to hear the case.
The charge to which Hastert pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped the charge of lying to the FBI, which also carries a maximum five-year sentence and $250,000 fine.
Hastert did not comment outside the courtroom and offered only brief statements to the judge. He told the judge he was in good health "considering I'm 73 years old."
"Did you know what you were doing was wrong?" Durkin asked. "Yes," Hastert replied.
Hastert admitted meeting in 2010 with Individual A, who prosecutors say Hastert has known most of his life, and agreeing to pay him $3.5 million "in order to compensate for and keep confidential his prior misconduct," according to the government's proffer.
Hastert made fifteen $50,000 withdrawals between June 2010 and April 2012, which he turned over to "Individual A" about every six weeks. In April 2012, representatives from his various banks questioned him about the withdrawals. After that, Hastert began withdrawing money in increments less than $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements. From July 2012 until Dec. 6, 2014, Hastert withdrew a total of $952,000 in amounts under $10,000 on at least 106 occasions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.