Judge: Hastert support letters must be public to be considered in sentencing

  • U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse in Chicago for his arraignment last June.

    U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse in Chicago for his arraignment last June. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/15/2016 7:44 PM

Letters in support of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert cite his ill health and public service in asking for leniency when he's sentenced April 27 on banking charges.

But dozens more letters on behalf of Hastert will only be considered if they're made public in the court file, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin has ruled.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Durkin issued the order in response to 60 letters of support Hastert's attorneys submitted last month to the U.S. Probation Office as part of a confidential presentence report.

"If the defendant wants the court to consider any of these letters in mitigation or for any other purpose, the defendant must publicly file the letters," Durkin's order reads.

Several letters already in the court file contain statements in support of Hastert, who seeks probation. Prosecutors have noted that guidelines suggest something between probation and six months behind bars. But the judge could impose a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

In a letter dated Oct. 28, 2015, Barrington Hills physician H. Bates Noble requested a "rational sentence" for Hastert, indicating in more than 30 years Noble "never found the slightest hint of impropriety in any of his actions."

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"I hope and pray you'll see that the terrible price he has paid in this matter is more than enough punishment and sentence him accordingly," Noble wrote. Noble did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.

Former Wheaton College professor P.J. Hill asked Durkin, in a letter dated Jan. 26, 2016, to "take into account Mr. Hastert's long record of exemplary public service and his clear commitment to the common good of the United States" in his sentencing decision.

Reached by phone, Hill declined to comment further. Wheaton College, Hastert's alma mater, removed his name from its economics, government, and public policy center after he was accused.

ServiceMaster Company chairman emeritus C. William Pollard, of Wheaton, described himself as a 30-year friend of Hastert in a letter dated Dec. 11, 2015, in which he asked for probation, citing Hastert's ill health.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"While his current situation may reflect mistakes in how he structured withdrawals from his bank accounts, he is not a deceitful person," Pollard wrote.

"During his years of service to our country ... he was known as a man of integrity, a person who you could trust," he wrote. Attempts by the Daily Herald to reach Pollard were unsuccessful.

Hastert's lawyers declined to comment whether they will make the additional letters part of the court file.

Letters from other individuals and victim advocacy groups call for Durkin to impose a severe sentence, though none of the writers appears to personally know Hastert or his former students.

Hastert pleaded guilty in October to violating banking laws in a hush money payment to a former student to keep the man from revealing the former U.S. House Speaker's "past misconduct." Prosecutors confirmed the "misconduct" involved the sexual abuse of five students between 1965 and 1981, when Hastert taught and coached wrestling at Yorkville High School.

Hastert paid $1.7 million of an agreed-upon $3.5 million payout to the former student, identified in court proceedings as "Individual A," who was a 14-year-old wrestling team member when Hastert abused him, prosecutors said.

Between 2010 and 2012, Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 for a total of $750,000. After he learned from bank officers that withdrawals over $10,000 were reported to federal authorities, Hastert began withdrawing cash in smaller increments to avoid the reporting laws, prosecutors said. When confronted by the FBI, Hastert claimed he withdrew the money because he didn't trust banks. He also claimed someone was trying to extort him on a bogus sexual abuse claim, prosecutors said.

The brother of longtime Illinois House Republic leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, Durkin acknowledged at Hastert's 2015 arraignment that he donated a total of $1,500 to the former congressman's campaign in 2002 and 2004, but said he had never met him. A former federal prosecutor, Durkin was also a partner in the Chicago law firm where Hastert's son also worked. Although Durkin offered to recuse himself, attorneys for both sides agreed he should preside over the case.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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