Dennis Hastert sentenced to 15 months in prison
Dennis Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison by a federal judge who called him "a serial child molester" and imposed a penalty more than double what prosecutors had sought.
"Nothing is more stunning than uttering 'serial child molester' and 'Speaker of the House' in the same sentence," U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin said of the man who was once second in line to the presidency of the United States.
"Some conduct is unforgivable no matter how old it is," Durkin said of the sentence he pronounced Wednesday, ending a steep descent into ignominy for the once-respected coach and legislator who pleaded guilty in October to violating the banking laws he shepherded through Congress in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Hastert, 74, acknowledged abusing five teens.
"I'm sorry to those I hurt and misled," said the Plano Republican. "What I did was wrong and I regret it."
Hastert was not immediately taken into custody. He will surrender later and be sent to a federal facility, possibly in Rochester, Minn., where he will receive treatment for diabetes and the effects of sepsis and a stroke he suffered last year. Durkin also ordered Hastert pay a $250,000 fine to be applied to a fund for sexual abuse victims.
Hastert watched impassively from his wheelchair as two witnesses excoriated him in a packed courtroom. Scott Cross, 53, of Wheaton, the brother of Hastert's political protégé Tom Cross, accused Hastert of sexually abusing him in 1979, while Hastert taught and coached at Yorkville High School. Cross was identified as "Individual D" in court filings.
"As a high school wrestler I looked up to him ... I respected and trusted Coach Hastert," said Cross, who described in a choked voice "the intense pain, shame and grief" he experienced after Hastert molested him in a locker room.
Hastert said he didn't remember sexually abusing Cross but "accepts his statement."
Jolene Burdge spoke on behalf of her brother Stephen Reinboldt, who she said was a victim of Hastert.
Reinboldt, who died of AIDS in 1995, "spent years running from this pain and trauma," Burdge said. "You were supposed to keep him safe, not violate him. You took his innocence ... sending him down a reckless path that cost him his life."
Hastert was not charged with sexual abuse. The statute of limitations ran out long ago. Had he been charged with sexually abusing his students some 40 years ago, he would likely have been convicted, said Durkin, and would have been sentenced to a prison term far longer than the five-year maximum that accompanies his conviction for structuring bank withdrawals to avoid bank reporting requirements.
"This is not meant to be a death sentence," Durkin said, saying federal facilities "hold prisoners older and sicker" than Hastert.
"Your age did not prevent you from committing (the crimes). It should not prevent you from being punished," he said.
Prosecutors established that Hastert withdrew the funds in a proposed $3.5 million hush money payout to the man Durkin described as "Victim A," to keep the former student from revealing Hastert's abuse. Victim A did not testify at Wednesday's hearing.
Between June 2010 and December 2014, Hastert paid the man $1.7 million. Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 between 2010 and 2012, then began withdrawing smaller cash amounts after bank officials informed him they had to report withdrawals of more than $10,000 as required by the Patriot Act.
"In 3½ years on the bench, 13 years as a federal prosecutor and 20 years as a defense attorney, I've never seen a more obvious and clear-cut violation of structuring laws," Durkin said, for which "the underlying conduct was a sordid secret."
Had Hastert told the truth when the FBI confronted him about the withdrawals, "I'm not sure we'd be here today," Durkin said. The former lawmaker told federal investigators looking into his cash withdrawals that Victim A was blackmailing him, which federal authorities found to be false.
Durkin called that unconscionable, saying "he was a victim once decades ago and you tried to make him a victim again."
•Daily Herald Staff Writers Mike Riopell and Kerry Lester contributed.