Judge: Hastert victim broke terms of $3.5M hush-money deal

  • Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse in Chicago for his arraignment in 2015.

    Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse in Chicago for his arraignment in 2015. Associated Press

 
By Michael Tarm
AP Legal Affairs Writer
Updated 9/11/2019 7:28 PM

A former student who Dennis Hastert sexually abused decades ago breached an unwritten $3.5 million hush-money agreement with the former U.S. House speaker by telling family members and a friend about it, a Kendall County judge ruled this week.

But Judge Robert Pilmer declined to enter an immediate judgment in favor of either Hastert or the now-adult victim who sued the Republican, saying decisive questions in the civil case can be answered only at a trial.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Hastert's victim, referred to only as James Doe in filings, brought the breach-of-contract lawsuit in 2016 in a bid to force Hastert to pay the unpaid balance of the hush money, nearly $2 million. Hastert's lawyers said the 2010 deal was void after Doe spoke about it to others.

Pilmer agreed only in part with Hastert's position, saying the man who sued did have "an obligation" not to discuss the agreement.

"He needed to keep it secret," Pilmer said in the seven-page ruling first posted Tuesday.

But the judge added that only jurors or, if it's a bench trial, a judge can determine if Doe's breaches were significant enough to absolve Hastert from having to pay the outstanding money.

The roughly $1.5 million Hastert did pay over four years in $50,000 cash installments prompted a criminal investigation in 2014. Hastert's methods for structuring the cash withdrawals so they wouldn't be flagged tipped off the FBI, initiating the probe and eventually making his abuse of Doe and other public.

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Hastert stopped making payments after FBI agents questioned him.

Pilmer's ruling -- a partial victory for both sides -- could put pressure on both Doe and Hastert to settle before the case gets to trial. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Hastert pleaded guilty in 2015 to breaking banking laws and a year later was given a 15-month prison sentence. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin called Hastert a "serial molester" for abusing teenagers when he worked as a wrestling coach in Yorkville.

Neither Hastert nor his victim broke laws by making a cash-for-silence deal, with prosecutors saying it was akin to an out-of-court settlement. Prosecutors have also said Doe wasn't extorting Hastert and that it was Hastert who insisted on keeping the agreement secret.

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