Imprisoned former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has asked a judge to not only reject a sexual abuse victim's breach-of-contract lawsuit, but also to make the man pay back $1.7 million in secret hush-money payments.
In response to the lawsuit and in his counterclaim, Hastert denied that the oral pact was akin to a valid and enforceable contract, and said that if it were it would be the plaintiff who breached it when he broke his silence and spoke with federal authorities.
The lawsuit was filed in April by a now middle-age married man whom Hastert coached decades ago at Yorkville High School in Yorkville, a city west of Chicago.
The man, known as Individual A in the federal case, said Hastert had agreed in 2010 to pay him $3.5 million if he didn't disclose publicly that Hastert had inappropriately touched him in the 1970s, when Individual A was 14, in a hotel room during a wrestling trip. Hastert was close friends with the boy's parents.
The teen went on to become a standout athlete in high school but later suffered panic attacks, unemployment and bouts of depression and needed psychiatric treatment, according to his lawsuit. Hastert responded to the suit and made his argument to reclaim the $1.7 million in court papers made public Thursday.
Individual A’s attorney called Hastert's response "predictable."
"Mr. Hastert has decided that rather than live up to his promise to compensate his victim for his molestation and resulting injury, he will ask his victim to pay him," attorney Kristi Browne said. "He admits to agreeing to make payments, but then denies that it is an agreement that he has to keep."
Hastert paid the former wrestler $1.7 million over 4½ years through 2014, but stopped making payments that December after the FBI questioned him in his Plano, Ill., home about his large bank withdrawals.
Hastert, a Republican who served in Congress from 1987 till he resigned in 2007, is serving a 15-month federal prison sentence in Rochester, Minn., for illegally structuring the bank withdrawals to avoid reporting requirements.
In his lawsuit against Hastert, Individual A asks that Hastert pay the remaining $1.8 million.
At his April sentencing hearing, Hastert admitted to inappropriate conduct with the man and other former student athletes before going into politics in the 1980s. In his latest response to the lawsuit, regarding the sexual abuse allegations, Hastert said he had "insufficient information with which to admit or deny the allegations."
Hastert had admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he was making the withdrawals to pay off the man to hide past wrongdoing.
Federal prosecutors said Hastert inappropriately touched several male students when he was a wrestling coach from 1965 to 1981. The statute of limitations to bring charges for sexual abuse had long since run out, and prosecutors said their best option for holding Hastert accountable was for banking violations.
The case began to unfold after a Yorkville bank noticed Hastert making suspicious withdrawals. In December 2014, FBI agents confronted Hastert. He told them he was trying to keep his money safe, but he later alleged he was a victim of an extortion plot. At the request of authorities, Hastert secretly recorded two calls to Individual A to catch him making threats, but agents soon concluded Hastert was lying.
Hastert, 75, is due to be paroled in August.
Gutowski writes for the Chicago Tribune.