Legal experts: Hastert’s bid to avoid prison could be on shaky ground
State Rep. Dennis Hastert savors his Congressional victory at his campaign office in the Baker Hotel in St. Charles, Ill. on Nov. 5, 1986.(Don Casper / Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves after his guilty plea at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Oct. 28, 2015.(Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
(Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)
(Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
(Terrence A. James, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, second from right, is led by Sidley Austin attorney John Gallo as they make their way through the media gathering at Chicago’s Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on June 9, 2015. Hastert was in court for his arraignment on charges he evaded bank regulations and lied to the FBI.(Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert makes his way from his Plano home to a limousine waiting in his driveway June 9, 2015. Hastert was due in federal court later in the day, accused of evading bank regulations and lying to the FBI.(Warren Skalski, for the Chicago Tribune)
U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., announces his retirement to reporters and supporters Aug. 17, 2007, in Yorkville.(Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)
Former Gov. Jim Edgar, left, and former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert greet people during an Illinois Business Immigration Coalition event April 22, 2014, in Chicago.(Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)
Cardinal Francis George, left, and former House Speaker Dennis Hastert talk after each spoke about the need for immigration reform during a conference at DePaul University on Feb., 4, 2014.(Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert takes part in a panel discussion at Wheaton College on Oct. 30, 2012.(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert at a panel discussion at Wheaton College on Oct. 30, 2012.(Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)
Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, right, and Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, notice that Hastert is wearing the same tie as in his portrait during the painting’s official unveiling at the U.S. Captiol on July 28, 2009, in Washington.(Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich talk with reporters after a meeting with legislative leaders to discuss the budget July 31, 2008, in Chicago.(Alex Garcia, Chicago Tribune)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Northern Illinois University Chairwoman Cherilyn Murer and Dr. Allan Thornton, Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute medical adviser, talk at a groundbreaking for the Northern Illinois Proton Treatment and Research Center at the DuPage National Technology Park on June 19, 2008, in West Chicago.(Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert enjoys his visit March 5, 2008, to the Illinois House at the state Capitol in Springfield. Hastert was being honored by Illinois lawmakers for his many years of legislative service.(Seth Perlman, AP)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert walks through Statuary Hall on his way to the House floor to make his farewell address to Congress on Nov. 15, 2007, in Washington(Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert thanks supporter Sondra Hecox of St. Charles on election night Nov. 7, 2006, at the Baker Hotel in St. Charles.(Bonnie Trafelet, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, left, introduces the new House Majority Leader, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, center, after he defeated Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., right, on Feb. 2, 2006. Blunt had assumed the position on an interim basis after Rep. Tom DeLay stepped down following his indictment.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, right, listens to interim House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, R-Mo., on Sept. 28, 2005, after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay stepped down from his leadership position following his indictment.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, left, greets former Illinois Gov.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 18, 2005.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Warrenville Mayor Vivian M. Lund and U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert talk March 23, 2005, after a ceremonial signing of an agreement with the Kerr-McGee chemical company for the removal of radioactive pollutants in Kress Creek and the west branch of the DuPage River.(John Dziekan, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert walks through the U.S. Capitol building, August 4, 2004 in Washington D.C. flanked by security and members of his staff. Hastert had held the position of Speaker for 6 years and recently wrote a book detailing his life and career.(Steven Rosenberg / Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert in his office at the U.S. Capitol on August 4, 2004.(Steven Rosenberg / Chicago Tribune)
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, left, Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority Leader
U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert waves as he is introduced as speaker of the House by Rep.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert signs Dana Balicki’s boxing robe during a celebration of the expansion of the Rush-Copley Medical Center in Aurora on Aug. 27, 2002.(Abel Uribe, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert awaits a television interview on election night in Aurora on Nov. 6, 2002.(E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert signs an autograph for Kate Stjefbold, 9, at Sandwich Fairground in Sandwich on July 19, 2002.(Michael Walker, for the Chicago Tribune)
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, left, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert hold up sample tax cut checks during a Republican rally at the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 2, 2001, to celebrate all they’ve accomplished during the congressional session.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
President George W. Bush, right, chats with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert during a Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on July 26, 2001.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
President George W. Bush shakes hands with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, right, after addressing a joint session of Congress and a national television audience at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 28, 2001. Vice President Dick Cheney, center, applauds Bush.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
U. S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert holds a news conference Feb. 12, 2001, on the driveway of his home in Yorkville to let the media know that he is fine after surgery the night before to alleviate discomfort from kidney stones.(Mario Petitti, Chicago Tribune)
Senate Majority Leader
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert speeds off Sept. 22, 1999, while driving a minicar in the third annual “Capitol Hill Challenge,” for the Kmart Kids Race Against Drugs.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert greets supporters on election night, Nov. 7, 2000, in Aurora.(Stephanie Sinclair, Chicago Tribune)
House Speaker Dennis Hastert is prepped for a CBS news show on election night, Nov. 7, 2000, in Aurora.(Stephanie Sinclair, Chicago Tribune)
U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert watches as fishing instructor Owen Owens tries to untangle his line from a tree during an early-morning fishing trip to Valley Forge State Park in Pennsylvania on July 31, 2000.(Stephanie Sinclair, Chicago Tribune)
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, left, speaks during a City Hall news conference as U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert whispers to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, right. The news conference in 1999 announced the partial federal funding of the reconstruction of Chicago’s Lower Wacker Drive and completion of the Stevenson Expressway repairs.(Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)
U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, right, and U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, center, applaud as third-grader Kiara Hastings, left, finishes her introductory speech during the congressmen’s visit to the Arna Bontemps Public School in the Englewood neighborhood June 1, 1999.(John Lee, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert poses for a photo with eighth-grade American history students after speaking to them at Batavia Middle School on May 10, 1999.(Mario Petitti, Chicago Tribune)
(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert poses with a couple who recognized him as he departed the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 17, 1999, in Washington. A plainclothes Capitol police officer stands guard as Hastert aide Sam Lancaster takes the picture.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Dennis Hastert appears at a Yorkville radio station in 1999.(Candice C. Cusic, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert gets his hair cut by Chuck Wolfe, owner of Chuck’s in Yorkville, on Feb. 16, 1999.(Candice C. Cusic, Chicago Tribune)
Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert pays the check at the Cozy Corner Family Restaurant in Yorkville on Feb. 16, 1999.(Candice C. Cusic, Chicago Tribune)
Jean Hastert sits with her husband, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, and family friend Bob Williams inside the Cozy Corner Family Restaurant in Yorkville on Feb. 16, 1999.(Candice C. Cusic, Chicago Tribune)
Vice President Al Gore, left, and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert applaud President Bill Clinton before his State of the Union address Jan. 19, 1999, in Washington, D.C.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Newly elected U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, right, and Mayor
Dennis Hastert, new Speaker of the House, is congratulated by Democratic Minority Leader Dick Gephardt on Jan. 6, 1999.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., with his wife, Jean, at his side, speaks at a news conference Jan. 5, 1999, in Washington.(Pete Souza, Chicago Tribune)
State Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, speaks about a public utilities bill June 21, 1985, in Springfield.(John W. Cary, UPI)
State Reps. Dennis Hastert and Jane Barnes speak in 1983 on the bipartisan Illinois Legislative Investigating Commission at the State of Illinois Building in Chicago. The group studied child abuse. Rep. Aaron Jaffe, D-Skokie, and Hastert, R-Oswego, co-chaired the group.(Val Mazzenga, Chicago Tribune)
State Rep. Dennis Hastert campaigns for Congress in 1986 in Aurora.(David Butow, Chicago Tribune)
State Rep. Dennis Hastert, 39th District.(Chicago Tribune historical photo)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert in a photo from a 1973 Yorkville High School yearbook when he was the school’s wrestling coach.(Handout)
Dennis Hastert in a photo in the 1966 Yorkville High School yearbook, the first year he taught at the school.(Handout)
Federal prosecutors say former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert lied to them last year, telling them that a former student wrestler was trying to extort him by making false allegations of sexual abuse decades ago.
Prosecutors say the abuse allegations are true. But they have agreed not to use Hastert’s alleged lie to boost his sentence later this month.
On Wednesday, however, the federal judge overseeing the case made it clear that Hastert’s alleged ploy to blame the man he’d abused will be a crucial part of his decision on whether the former speaker should be given prison and for how long.
Legal experts told the Tribune the judge’s remarks signaled that Hastert’s bid to avoid prison could be on shaky ground.
“I think he was telegraphing directly that this is something on his mind, and it’s something that would put upward pressure on whatever the sentence is,” former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins said. “To see how the judge sorts through it all is going to be interesting.”
The judge’s comments were just one of several intriguing developments in Hastert’s case Wednesday:
•A filing unsealed over objections from Hastert’s lawyers showed they have questioned whether touching the groin of Individual A during a massage in a motel room four decades ago amounted to sexual abuse.
•Hastert claimed to have no recollection of sexually abusing another young wrestler, Individual D, who is scheduled to testify about the incident at Hastert’s upcoming sentencing.
Stephen Reinboldt’s sister Jolene Burdge speaks out about her brother’s alleged abuse by Dennis Hastert decades ago when they lived in Yorkville. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)
•A lawyer for Individual A threatened in a January letter to sue Hastert if he doesn’t cough up the remaining $1.8 million he owed in hush money, plus interest.
•According to the unsealed defense filing, a probation report not made public recommended Hastert undergo a sex offender assessment, including submitting to a lie-detector test to reveal any “recent misconduct.” The report also “speculates that Mr. Hastert’s international travel allowed him to anonymously engage in sexual misconduct overseas,” according to a filing by the defense, which objected to that portion of the report.
Hastert, 74, faces anywhere from probation up to five years in prison when he is sentenced April 27, although his plea agreement with prosecutors calls for a sentence of no more than six months behind bars. He pleaded guilty in October to one count of illegally structuring bank withdrawals to avoid reporting requirements, admitting in a plea agreement that he’d paid $1.7 million in cash to Individual A to cover up unspecified misconduct from decades earlier.
In court Wednesday, federal prosecutors confirmed that Individual D, who told authorities that Hastert performed a sexual act on him in the school locker room when he was 17, will testify under oath at the sentencing hearing.
Jolene Burdge, the sister of a third alleged victim, Stephen Reinboldt, is also expected to tell the court how her deceased brother had told her Hastert had sexually abused him throughout high school, prosecutors said. He was equipment manager for the wrestling team.
John Gallo, Hastert’s Chicago-based attorney, said in court Wednesday the defense did not intend to call any witnesses at sentencing.
In asking for probation, Hastert’s attorneys have said the former speaker was “profoundly sorry” for harming others and that he had chosen a career path designed to make a difference in the lives of youths. They said his accomplishments and lack of a previous criminal history should be considered when it comes to deciding how he should be punished. Numerous letters of support have been submitted to the judge but not made public.
Collins said the dynamic of Hastert’s upcoming sentencing hearing is unique because defense lawyers are typically eager to talk about a defendant’s past to counterbalance the facts of whatever crime was committed later in life. In Hastert’s case, his past is “a double-edged sword,” Collins said.
“The more this becomes a referendum on Dennis Hastert the man and his life story, the more challenging a probation sentence probably becomes,” said Collins, now a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie.
In a 26-page filing last week, prosecutors alleged Hastert sexually abused five students when he was a high school teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School. The abuse allegedly occurred in hotel rooms during team trips and in empty locker rooms, often after Hastert coaxed the teens into a compromising position by offering to massage them.
Prosecutors alleged that Hastert performed a sex act on two wrestlers at separate times and inappropriately touched two other wrestlers once each while giving them massages. The filing also alleged that Hastert set up a La-Z-Boy-type of chair outside the locker room showers in order to sit and watch the boys.
Shortly after Hastert was approached by the FBI in December 2014 about numerous high-dollar bank cash withdrawals, he told authorities he was being extorted by a former student who had made false claims of sexual abuse against him, prosecutors said. In March 2015, Hastert recorded two calls with Individual A, but investigators noted that Individual A’s tone and comments did not sound like an extortionist.
When it became clear that Hastert was touching him in an inappropriate way, Individual A jumped off the bed, but he said he was confused and embarrassed and apologized to Hastert. He told authorities Hastert massaged his back and the two slept on the same bed.
It was not until 2010 that Individual A confronted Hastert about the long-ago incident and Hastert agreed to pay him $3.5 million to keep quiet about the misconduct decades earlier.
The 14-page defense filing made public Wednesday revealed that FBI agents were wearing hidden body recorders when they knocked on the door to Hastert’s Plano home to ask him about his unusual bank activity. At the time, investigators worried Hastert, as a former high-profile politician and current lobbyist, could be involved in criminal activity, either as a perpetrator or a victim.
According to the filing, Hastert told agents he “didn’t know” that bank rules required him to report any withdrawals over $10,000 to regulators.
“I exposed myself to a crime that I didn’t know I was involved in,” Hastert was quoted in the filing as saying. He also told agents he was keeping the cash in a “safe place,” the filing said.
In a footnote in their sentencing filing, prosecutors said that “despite the fact that the government has determined that (Hastert) was not truthful” in his statements to investigators, they did not intend to use his lies as aggravation at Hastert’s sentencing.
But in court Wednesday, Durkin signaled Hastert’s false statements could become a focal point.
“He basically said Individual A was holding him up, was extorting him,” Durkin said.
Individual A has never been publicly identified and is not expected to testify at Hastert’s sentencing hearing. When Tribune reporters approached the middle-age husband and father in February, Individual A said he didn’t want to be rude but was “not interested” in speaking publicly and walked away. His wife acknowledged that her husband was a “victim.”
The defense filing unsealed by the judge Wednesday called Hastert’s conduct with Individual A “ambiguous” and questioned whether it rose to the level of sexual abuse. Individual A told investigators last year that he was “not sure if (Hastert) touched (Individual A’s) genitals or brushed his genitals,” the filing stated.
“While undoubtedly many would consider this episode as described by Individual A, consisting as a groin rub for a groin pull and a massage, to be misconduct, we are not so certain that the incident qualifies as sexual misconduct, especially for a coach and trainer 42 years ago,” his lawyers wrote.
Hastert, though, “deeply regrets that the episode occurred,” his legal team wrote.
In court Wednesday, Hastert’s attorneys argued vigorously that the filing should remain under seal because it contained references to the probation department official’s six-page recommendation that is typically not part of the public record. But Durkin ordered the document unsealed after saying it did not contain any information that wasn’t likely to be argued in open court at the April 27 sentencing.
The defense filing also revealed that an attorney for Individual A sent a letter in January threatening to go public with legal action if Hastert did not pay the remaining $1.8 million he owes in hush money, plus any interest owed. The attorney, Kristi Browne, confirmed to the Tribune she represents Individual A but she declined further comment.
“Mr. Hastert did actually fear that Individual A could destroy him if he went public,” his attorneys wrote.
Tribune reporter Christy Gutowski contributed.
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