Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison along with two years of supervised release for illegal financial transactions he made in an effort to pay off a man he allegedly molested back in the 1970s. The sentence will make Hastert the highest-ranking politician in U.S. history to serve time behind bars.
Hastert, 74 years old and confined to a wheelchair due to declining health (he suffered a stroke in 2015), pleaded guilty last year to illegally structuring financial withdrawals to avoid reporting requirements. The illegal transactions were used to make over $3 million in hush-money payments to a man Hastert allegedly molested during a high school wrestling camp in the 1970s, when Hastert was a coach.
The hearing, held in Chicago, was an emotionally jarring affair, as one of Hastert’s accusers broke his silence to testify before the court. The man, who identified himself as Scott Cross, said Hastert took advantage of him in 1979 when he was a senior in high school. Hastert, he said, offered to give him a massage after practice, but then pulled down his shorts and fondled his genitals.
“As a 17-year-old boy I was devastated,” said Cross, who has been identified as “Individual D” in court documents. “I tried to figure out why Coach Hastert had singled me out. I felt terribly alone … Today I understand I did nothing to bring this on, but at age 17, I could not understand what happened or why.”
“I’ve always felt that what Coach Hastert had done to me was my darkest secret,” Cross added. Notably, Cross is the younger brother of Tom Cross, a former leader of Republicans in the Illinois House of Representatives who credits Hastert with boosting his political career.
During the hearing, Hastert admitted he “mistreated” boys during his days as a coach, but never used the word “abuse” to describe his conduct.
“What I did was wrong and I regret it,” Hastert said. “They looked up to me and I took advantage of them.” When pressed by Judge Thomas Durkin on whether he sexually abused Cross, Hastert said he did not remember doing so but would “accept” the statement.
Even though Hastert wasn’t on trial for sexual abuse (the statue of limitations has expired for all the allegations), it almost certainly played a role in Durkin’s decision to levy a harsh punishment on Hastert. Durkin labeled the former speaker of the house a “serial child molester” who used his office to avoid trouble with the FBI.
The 15-month sentence is more than twice as long as the six months sought by prosecutors. Hastert will also have to serve two years of supervised release, attend sex offender treatment, and will be barred from ever again contacting his alleged victims.
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