Former House speaker Dennis Hastert, who less than a decade ago stood second in line to the presidency, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison Wednesday (April 27, 2016) for a bank fraud case linked to allegations he sexually abused teen boys more than 30 years ago.
Federal Judge Thomas Durkin called Hastert, 74, a “serial child molester” and rejected a prosecutor’s recommendation of six months in prison on a banking charge that carries a maximum five-year sentence. The court also fined Hastert $250,000 and sentenced him to two years of supervised release after leaving prison. Hastert must register as a sex offender.
“Nothing is more disturbing than having ‘serial child molester’ and ‘Speaker of the House’ in the same sentence,” Durkin said.
Hastert, who entered court in a wheelchair and needed help standing to address the judge, admitted for the first time mistreating some athletes when he was a high school wrestling coach in Illinois before he began a political career that saw him become the top Republican in Congress.
“I want to apologize to the boys I mistreated,” Hastert said. “They looked (up) at me and I took advantage of them.”
Zachary Fardon, the U.S. Attorney for Northern Illinois, said federal guidelines for the charge of illegal structuring of bank withdrawals dictated his office’s recommendation for up to a six-month prison term. Hastert pleaded guilty to the charge in October. Fardon noted that Hastert would have faced more serious charges for sex abuse had the statutes of limitation for the criminal sexual misconduct not expired years ago.
The federal guidelines set a maximum sentence for illegal structuring at five years in prison. Prosecutors say Hastert knowingly tried to evade triggering a rule that requires banks to report withdrawals over $10,000 to the IRS, but the money was legally obtained and he paid all appropriate taxes on the funds. Those details direct prosecutors to seek a relatively short sentence under the guidelines.
“We followed the case where it led, we brought the charges we could bring, and through that Mr. Hastert’s legacy and legend are gone,” Fardon said. “In its place are a broken, humiliated man.”
Durkin acknowledged he could not sentence Hastert “for being a child molester” and that his sentence would “pale in comparison” to what the former lawmaker would have faced had he been convicted of state charges for sexual abuse of a child.
Under current Illinois law, Hastert would have faced between three and seven years in state prison if convicted of a single count of sexual misconduct with a minor.
The judge said that the prison term was not intended to be a “death sentence,” but made clear that Hastert’s age and shaky health should not prevent him from doing time. More than 4,600 inmates federally incarcerated are above the age of 70, roughly the same age that Hastert began making the illegally structured withdrawals to cover up his past wrongdoing, the judge said. Durkin has yet to set a surrender date for when Hastert has to report to prison.
Hastert’s lawyer have said that he suffered a small stroke shortly after he pleaded guilty in October, and that he was also hospitalized for a blood infection.
The sentencing completes the spectacular fall of a former small-town high school coach who rose to lead Congress. Hastert was a legendary wrestling coach and social studies teacher at Yorkville for 16 years before launching a political career in the early 1980s that culminated with him being elected as U.S. House speaker.
One former athlete, now 53, testified that he was abused by Hastert, describing a locker room molestation when he was 17 years old.
“Judge, I wanted you to know the pain and suffering he caused me then, and the pain and suffering he causes me today,” said Scott Cross, the brother of prominent Illinois politician Tom Cross. USA TODAY normally does not name victims of abuse, but Cross revealed his name in open court.
Defense attorney Thomas Green confirmed that Hastert asked his legal team to reach out to Tom Cross to write a letter on Hastert’s behalf. Lawyers for Hastert have said in court papers that Hastert did not recall the incident with Scott Cross.
“Don’t be a coward, Mr. Hastert. Tell the truth,” she said. “What you did was not misconduct, it was sexual abuse of a minor.”
Three other men have come forward and told prosecutors they were also victims of sexual misconduct by Hastert during their time the team.
Hastert acknowledged on Wednesday, for the first time, that he had abused boys under his charge as wrestling coach, but he briefly vacillated when he was asked specifically about his interactions with Reinboldt.
“That was a different situation,” said Hastert, before clarifying that he did indeed abuse Reinboldt.
Hastert in October acknowledged the transactions were made as part an effort to pay off a man, known in court documents as “Individual A,” for past transgressions.
Individual A, who did not testify Wednesday, told prosecutors that Hastert molested him at a motel as Hastert and a group of boys made their home from an out-of-town wrestling camp. The man told prosecutors he was 14 at the time of the incident.
Hastert, who served 20 years in the U.S. House, eight of them as its highest ranking member, before retiring in 2007, left the Chicago courthouse without talking to reporters. Green issued a statement saying that his client “accepts the sentence imposed by the court” and “deeply apologizes to all those affected by his actions.”
From 2010 to 2014, Hastert withdrew a total of approximately $1.7 million in cash from multiple bank accounts and gave it to Individual A. The payments were part of what authorities later learned was an off-the-books agreement Hastert made with the man to make amends for the decades-old sexual misconduct.
Officials at Hastert’s bank in Yorkville initially became suspicious of Hastert after conducting a routine audit in April 2012 in which they found he had made seven withdrawals of $50,000. Bank officials said they asked Hastert why he was making such large withdrawals; banks are required to file currency transaction reports for any withdrawal above $10,000.
Hastert told the bank officials that he was withdrawing the cash for investments and to buy stocks. He also told bank officials he wanted to keep his cash deposits under Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insurance limits.
Around July 2012, Hastert started structuring his cash withdrawals in increments of less than $10,000 to try to avoid triggering the bank filing requirement. He made $952,000 in withdrawals in mostly $9,000 increments withdrawn on 106 separate occasions, according to prosecutors.
Bank officials’ suspicions were again raised and they informed Hastert in February 2013 that they intended to close his account because of the suspicious activity. Hastert, however, closed his account before the bank acted.
Meanwhile, the FBI and IRS began looking at suspicious activity by Hastert at a Yorkville bank as well as two other banks where he made large withdrawals.
The former speaker was working at the time as a high-profile lobbyist for the Washington firm Dickstein Shapiro. The amount of cash and Hastert’s background led the federal authorities to further probe whether Hastert was either a perpetrator or victim of some sort of criminal activity, prosecutors said.
When agents initially interviewed Hastert in December 2014, he told them that he was keeping the cash he had been withdrawing in a safe place.
An attorney representing Hastert later told authorities that the former speaker was the victim of an extortion plot by Individual A.
Hastert agreed to allow federal authorities to record conversations he was having with Individual A, so they could try to prove the extortion charge. But it quickly became clear that Hastert had willingly entered an agreement with the former student to pay for his silence.
In their recordings, Individual A even reminded Hastert that he wanted to get lawyers or confidantes of Hastert involved, so they could ensure their agreement was legal, according to court filings.
“You tried to set him up,” an agitated Durkin told Hastert. “You tried to frame him.”
Individual A received just less than half of the $3.5 million agreement, according to prosecutors. Last week, he filed a $1.8 million suit against Hastert in Kendall County, Ill., charging that Hastert was in breach of contract for failing to fulfill their oral agreement.
Individual A says the abuse occurred in a motel room on the way home from a trip to wrestling camp, according to prosecutors. Between 10 and 14 boys were on the trip. Hastert, the only adult on trip, shared a room with the 14-year-old while the other boys stayed in a different room.
Individual A said Hastert touched him inappropriately after suggesting he would massage a groin injury the boy complained about earlier.
Before Wednesday’s sentencing, Hastert’s legal team said that the ex-lawmaker was sorry for his transgressions, but did not address the allegations against him. In fact, his attorneys raised questions in court filings about whether the incident with Individual A amounted to sexual abuse.
While in Congress, Hastert championed strengthening laws to enforce stricter punishment for repeat child predators. Later during his time in Congress, he also faced criticism for failing to aggressively investigate allegations that Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., had written sexually explicit messages to a teenager who was a House page.
WMR was one of the first to report on Hastert with this September 30, 2006 report:
“Congressional sources told WMR that Hastert, while working from 1964 to 1980 as a popular history/government teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School, in Yorkville, Illinois — a suburb of Chicago — was the subject of persistent rumors about inappropriate contact with male members of his high school wrestling team. The culture of the times usually resulted in such alleged behavior being covered up by public and parochial school authorities. However, the rumors were enough for his Yorkville constituency to reject him when he ran for an open seat in the Illinois House of Representatives in 1980. However, Hastert lucked out when another sitting Republican House member who represented the three-seat district had a stroke and declined to run for re-election. The GOP machine bosses selected Hastert as the replacement candidate.
Hastert served in Springfield from 1980 to 1986, six years to make the transformation from wrestling coach with a cloud surrounding himself to politician. In 1986, Hastert received an unexpected promotion. After incumbent Republican Rep. John Grotberg was nominated by the GOP for a second term, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and fell into a coma. The Illinois Republican Convention selected Hastert as the replacement on the ticket, a virtual election to the U.S. House of Representatives in the strongly Republican district.
In 1989, when the allegations of homosexuality among GOP congressmen arose during the first ‘Pagegate”‘ scandal [the so-called “Franklin cover-up], Hastert’s name was one of those whispered. In 1995, Hastert became Chief Deputy Whip under now-disgraced GOP Majority Whip Tom DeLay. Hastert would luck out again. In late 1989, amid scandal, House Speaker Newt Gingrich resigned. After Louisiana Rep. Bob Livingston was elected as Speaker by the GOP House Caucus, he too resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair — an amazing development since the House had impeached President Bill Clinton for lying about his own extramarital affair. Hastert, without much scrutiny, emerged as the compromise candidate for Speaker, after the GOP deadlocked on Majority Leader Dick Armey (also the subject of various rumors after he called Barney Frank, “Barney Fag”) and Majority Whip DeLay.
Now Hastert is fending off allegations that he knew about the page problem with Mark Foley for 11 months and refrained from taking any action. It is also noteworthy that the Chairman of the House Page Board is Republican Rep. John Shimkus, a close ally of Hastert’s from Illinois. Allegations of cover-up are also surrounding Louisiana GOP Rep. Rodney Alexander, the sponsor of the 16-year old Louisiana page to whom Foley sent messages concerning masturbation and erections, and New York Republican Rep. Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee. Both representatives stand accused of covering up Foley’s activities for as long as 11 months.
And the Pagegate scandal threatens to turn into a tsunami that could sweep a number of GOP congressmen from office on November 7. Jeffrey Ray Nielsen, a Christian fundamentalist activist lawyer who was a legislative aide for California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and a close associate of Orange County GOP chairman Scott Baugh, has been charged by Orange County, California police with repeatedly engaging in sex with a 14-year old Westminster, California high school freshman male in 2003 and amassing a large amount of child pornography in his Ladera Ranch condo. Nielsen, an attorney for Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, also reportedly engaged in sexual activities from 1994 to 1995 with a northern Virginia boy, who was 13 and 14 at the time. Nielsen, at the time, was a legislative assistant to Rohrabacher. Prosecutors in Orange County have been accused of dragging their feet on the Nielsen case — charges that involve political pressure from the GOP.”
On October 2, 2006, we reported:
“In August 2004, the GOP House leadership, which included Speaker Dennis Hastert, then-Majority Leader Tom DeLay, and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, took no action against Republican Rep. Mark Foley of Florida for his repeated salacious contact by email with underage male teens even though a heterosexually-married Republican congressman resigned over trolling gay web sites for ‘younger men.’ In August 2004, one-term Republican Rep. Ed Schrock of Virginia resigned after it became public that he was surfing gay and dating web sites in search of younger men for sex. Schrock, a political ally of his Virginia Beach constituent TV evangelist Pat Robertson and a retired U.S. Navy Captain, resigned after he was outed by a Washington, DC web site.
However, rather than dealing with Foley’s sexual habits on the Web, the GOP leadership sank deeper into cover-up mode, burying the Foley matter lest it shine a light on other GOP gay hypocrites in Congress whose anti-gay agenda would embarrass the party a few months before a critical presidential and congressional election.
It is now being reported that the House Page Board chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) actually enabled Foley to meet an underage pages for dinner dates after the House GOP leadership were aware of Foley’s inappropriate communications with the teens.”
Our report continued: “The House GOP leadership that now stands accused of covering up the scandal includes the GOP members of the House Page Board, Representatives John Shimkus of Illinois and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia; House Speaker Dennis Hastert; Majority Leader John Boehner; Majority Whip Roy Blunt; and National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Reynolds, who reportedly received $100,000 from Foley campaign coffers after he was first informed of the allegations against the Florida Republican.” Capito and Blunt have since been elected U.S. senators. Boehner is the current House Speaker.
The conservative Washington Times, which broke the underage prostitute scandal surrounding the Franklin Credit Union in Nebraska and the Reagan and Bush administrations in the late 1980s, called on Hastert to resign over the “Pagegate” scandal involving Foley and the other GOP House members.
On October 4, 2006, the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) reported on the knowledge of top Florida Republicans, including Governor Jeb Bush and Attorney General Charlie Crist, about the Foley-Hastert scandal in Washington: “In a gaggle with Florida’s Capital Press Corps Wednesday, Gov. Jeb Bush flatly refuted allegations posted on an Internet website and circulated widely Tuesday that claims Bush, Attorney General Charlie Crist and Florida Department of Law Enforcement were all told by the federal justice department about Mark Foley’s e-mails a year ago but covered it up. The alleged conspiracy, sourced to ‘informed sources in Tallahassee’ who were not named, was reported on the Wayne Madsen Report website. Madsen’s website claims to tackle ‘the ‘politically incorrect’ and ‘politically embarrassing’ stories and holds government officials accountable for their actions.’”
Bush, who is now a candidate for president, responded to a question from the St. Petersburg Times reporter in Tallahassee about the WMR report: “If the next governor . . . is going to have to respond to every blog and every tired little anonymous person who has some bitter part in their soul who wants to express it on the Internet, it’s not going to work.’” Bush was referring to Crist who was running as the GOP candidate for governor of Florida. Crist and Foley roomed together in Tallahassee when both were members of the state legislature.
On October 7, 2006, WMR dropped the big bombshell on Hastert: “The rumors about another top GOP member of the House being involved in sexual encounters with young “men for hire” are confirmed to WMR by well-placed sources in Washington’s gay community. The member in question is House Speaker Dennis Hastert, whose “alternate” life style is the primary reason for him and his staff covering up the scandal involving ex-Florida GOP Rep. Mark Foley and his lewd messages sent to underage male congressional pages. Hastert’s penchant to receive anal sex is well-known to our sources in DC’s gay community.” In addition, WMR reported on old charges that swirled around Hastert when he was a high school wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in Yorkville, Illinois. Hastert decided to enter politics in 1980 after rumors surfaced about inappropriate contact with male high school students. It is apparent that one of those students has now surfaced as the FBI’s “Individual A.”
Our October 7, 2006 report continued: “In July , Hastert was hospitalized at Bethesda Naval Hospital for cellulitis, a bacterial skin infection. In the Feb. 7, 2003 issue of AIDS Treatment News, doctors reported that they saw ‘a large increase in aggressive, antibiotic-resistant ‘staph’ (Staphylococcus aureus) skin infections in gay men in some areas — and a separate epidemic in certain prisons. Symptoms include boils or blisters; treatment can be difficult, and sometimes requires hospitalization. One HIV doctor in Los Angeles who used to see about one case a year is now seeing two a week. In the past this infection occurred mainly in hospitals.’ The reports of serious skin infections among gay men was also reported in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 27, 2003.”
WMR had another report on Hastert on October 9, 2006:
“There is also much focus on the relationship between House Speaker Dennis Hastert and his chief of staff, 56-year old Scott Palmer. Hastert and Palmer, Hastert’s longtime unmarried adviser, live together in a DC townhouse along with Hastert’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Mike Stokke, while Hastert’s wife Jean lives in Yorkville, Illinois and stays at a hotel when she visits Washington. [Mrs. Hastert even stayed at a hotel, instead of her husband’s townhouse, when she traveled to Washington on Valentine’s Day in 2007].
WMR has also learned of additional Senate links to the Pagegate scandal. There is much focus on GOP Sen. George Allen’s predominantly white male staff. There is also interest in the activities of a senior GOP Senator from a Rocky Mountain state. [That senator turned out to be Larry Craig (R-ID) who resigned in 2009 after he was arrested for trying to engage in homosexual activity with an undercover vice cop in a men’s room at Minneapolis International Airport].
WMR’s State Department sources have also reported that the visits of Hastert and other congressional leaders and staff members to certain Southeast Asian nations and the Northern Marianas should come under the scrutiny of the House Ethics Committee, now officially investigating ‘Pagegate.’ The Northern Marianas became infamous in the scandals involving Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff because of the presence in the US slave labor territory of Asian children being used as prostitutes. Conveniently, Foley co-chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, which would have had authority to investigate charges of child prostitution in the Northern Marianas. Hastert visited Vietnam, along with Palmer, in April of this year and spent three days in the country. Hastert, along with Illinois GOP Rep. Ray LaHood, canceled a visit to Thailand and Vietnam in January 2006. Hastert was also in Thailand in January 2002.”
On October 11, 2006, WMR reported on Hastert’s other brush with “hush money”:
“Yesterday, WMR reported on the contributions from Dennis Hastert’s political action committee — KOMPAC — [which paid Hastert’s Chief of Staff Scott Palmer for services] — to several GOP House members and candidates’ campaign coffers. FEC records also show that another closeted gay GOP Representative’s PAC made contributions to many of the same Republican candidates who received support from KOMPAC. Apparently, the GOP’s ‘Velvet Mafia’ has done a very good job of spreading around its ‘hush money’ to GOP House members and candidates.”
WMR also reported on the underage sex scandal involving the one-time chairman of the House Page Board, the openly-gay GOP Representative Jim Kolbe from Arizona: “Kolbe is under investigation by both the House Ethics Committee and the Justice Department for alleged inappropriate contact with two male pages during a July 4, 1996 camping trip to the Grand Canyon.” We also reported: “Republican Rep. Jerry Weller of Illinois, who is married to the daughter of Guatemalan ex-dictator (and fundamentalist Christian) Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, is rumored to have conducted an illicit affair with a 16-year old female page.”
Our in-depth reporting on Hastert and “Page-gate” and the pederasts within the GOP received a harsh reaction in the DC media. Wonkette, a blog then written by the current reporter for The Guardian newspaper Ana Marie Cox, wrote this about our reporting: “The problem is, Wayne Madsen just makes shit up. We hear from well-placed sources that no one is having sex with Dennis Hastert. Scott Palmer may be remarkably close to his boss, but he’s not blind.” Cox, whose Wonkette reports contained a number of unusual references to anal sex, earned the nickname, “Anal Marie Cox.” By attacking the messenger, Cox, like so many of her fellow whitewashers in journalism, was rewarded with her present gigs at The Guardian and GQ magazine.
WMR stands vindicated by the federal indictment of Mr. Hastert.
On May 29, 2015, after Hastert had been indicted for illicitly “structuring” financial transactions, two people briefed on the evidence from the case stated that “Individual A”—the man to whom Hastert was making payments—had been sexually abused by Hastert during Hastert’s time as a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School, and that Hastert had paid $1.7 million out of the total $3.5 million in promised payment. On the same day, the Los Angeles Times reported that investigators had spoken with a second former student (not the person who was receiving payments from Hastert), who made similar allegations that corroborated what the first student said.
On June 5, 2015, ABC News’ Good Morning America aired an interview with Jolene Reinboldt Burdge, the sister of Steve Reinboldt, who was the student equipment manager of the wrestling team at Yorkville High School when Hastert was the wrestling coach.