Prosecutors say Hastert sexually abused 5 youths
Dennis Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to a person the former House speaker sexually abused when the victim was a 14-year-old wrestler on a team coached by Hastert, prosecutors said in a court filing Friday that details allegations by five former students.
The filing is the first time prosecutors have confirmed Hastert paid hush-money to conceal sex abuse. It chronicles a chain of deception that began with Hastert exploiting his position of trust as a teacher and coach and carried on years later to include lying to bank officials and making false claims of extortion to the FBI to conceal his wrongdoing.
The filing recommends that a federal judge sentence Hastert to up to six months in prison for violating banking laws. The sex-abuse allegations date to Hastert's time at Yorkville High School in Yorkville from 1965 to 1981.
"While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them. Some have managed better than others, but all of them carry the scars defendant inflicted upon them," the filing says.
Prosecutors say Hastert still was abusing boys when he first decided to run for office, but the now-74-year-old Republican managed to keep any hint of sexual misconduct quiet throughout a political career that carried him from the Illinois Legislature to the halls of Congress and eventually to the speaker's office, where he was second in the line of succession to the presidency.
Hastert pleaded guilty in October to breaking banking laws as he sought to pay someone identified as "Individual A" in court documents to ensure the person kept quiet about Hastert's past misconduct. Hastert is scheduled to be sentenced April 27.
A defense filing Wednesday asked the judge to give Hastert probation and spare him prison time. It cited Hastert's deteriorating health and the public shame he's already suffered.
Hastert's lawyers didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment about prosecutors' filing Friday night.
Individual A is one of at least four people cited in the filing as saying that Hastert sexually abused them as children. Three were wrestlers and the fourth was a student-manager on the team Hastert coached. Another wrestler said Hastert touched him inappropriately while he was on a locker room massage table, but he wasn't sure if it was intentional.
According to the document, Individual A told prosecutors the abuse occurred in a motel room on the way home from a trip to wrestling camp. Hastert, the only adult on the trip, told the 14-year-old that he would stay in his room while about a dozen other boys stayed in a different room. Individual A said Hastert touched him inappropriately after suggesting he would massage a groin injury the boy had.
The other former wrestlers told prosecutors Hastert touched them in the locker room at Yorkville High, after saying he would give them massages. Two of those wrestlers, who were ages 14 and 17, say Hastert performed sex acts on them.
The student manager was Stephen Reinboldt, who died in 1995, but whose sister, Jolene Burdge, had spoken to The Associated Press previously. Burdge said her brother told her that the sexual abuse lasted throughout his time at Yorkville.
In their filing, prosecutors wrote that Hastert's "history and characteristics are marred by stunning hypocrisy." He made his victims "feel alone, ashamed, guilty and devoid of dignity," they said.
"It is profoundly sad that one of their earliest sexual experiences was in the form of abuse by a man whom they trusted and whom they revered as a mentor and coach," the filing says.
Prosecutors noted the statute of limitation on any sex-abuse charges have long since run out, making the banking charges the only ones they could pursue.
"The government seeks to hold defendant accountable for the crimes he committed that can still be prosecuted," the filing says.
Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 -- for a total of $750,000 -- from 2010 to 2012. It's what he did next that made his actions a crime. After learning withdrawals over $10,000 are flagged, he withdrew cash in smaller increments, taking out a total of $952,000 from 2012 to 2014.
The case has been shrouded in secrecy since Hastert was indicted in May 2015. Prosecutors only confirmed at a March hearing that sex-abuse claims were at its core.
Hastert's fear, say prosecutors, was that if he didn't pay Individual A "it would increase the chance that other former students he molested would tell their stories." Burdge had already confronted Hastert at her brother's funeral and he could see "she had been deeply affected by what defendant did to her brother, and she was likely to tell her story publicly if anyone would listen."
Court records say Hastert managed to pay $1.7 million to Individual A -- handing it over in lump sums of $100,000 cash -- starting in 2010. The payments stopped late in 2014 after FBI agents questioned Hastert about his cash withdrawals. Prosecutors said Friday it was a bank compliance officer who spotted the huge withdrawals.
Pressed about the withdrawals, Hastert gave various explanations for what he was doing with the cash -- that it was for vintage cars and for stocks, that he didn't trust the banks -- before he finally said he was be being extorted by someone he said was making a false sex-abuse claim. Hastert agreed to let investigators record phone conversations he had with the man, and prosecutors concluded the man's tone and comments "were inconsistent with someone committing extortion."
Days after pleading guilty, Hastert entered the hospital and nearly died from a blood infection, his lawyers have said. They've also said he had a stroke and required in-home care to help him dress and complete other basic tasks.