Hastert victim finally confronts man who had been ‘a key figure in my life’
In the months that followed the scandalous federal indictment of his famous high school wrestling coach, Scott Cross has struggled through sleepless nights with anger, guilt, shame and fear.
He wondered if coming forward publicly to say Dennis Hastert molested him nearly four decades ago when Cross was a Yorkville High School senior would make a difference. Would it encourage other survivors of childhood sexual abuse to find their voice? Would speaking out persuade the judge to give Hastert a harsher sentence?
He hoped so.
Cross shared his angst with the Tribune in dozens of conversations, emails and texts since October. He believed Hastert, a hometown hero who rose to U.S. House speaker, deserved to go to prison. A successful west suburban businessman, Cross knew his reputation and family — which includes his brother and Hastert political ally Tom Cross — brought credibility.
After nearly a year of internal uncertainty, Scott Cross finally faced his once-trusted coach in a bombshell court appearance Wednesday in which he confirmed he is the man identified by the government as Individual D.
“I wanted you to know the pain and suffering he caused me then and still causes me today,” Cross, 53, told U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin before Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison. “As importantly, I want my children and anyone else who was ever treated the way I was to know that there’s an alternative to staying silent. As deeply painful as it has been to discuss this ... staying silent for years was worse.
A packed federal courtroom fell silent as Cross began an emotional victim-impact statement that he admitted he wasn’t certain he had the strength to deliver until he reached the lectern. He spoke just a few minutes, his voice cracking with emotion at least twice, when he mentioned his two children and, earlier, when describing how as a teen he respected and trusted Hastert.
Years ago, state Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, had high praise for Dennis Hastert when Hastert ascended to U.S. House Speaker. It was a different story Wednesday. April 27, 2016. (CBS Chicago)
Cross never spoke directly to Hastert, who was seated in a wheelchair near the defense table.
Cross told the Tribune months ago that he was victimized in the fall of 1979 when he was wrestling team captain. Because of his uncertainty about coming forward publicly and its possible implications on his family and work in the financial services community, Cross asked the Tribune to keep his identity confidential until he spoke out publicly. The Tribune honored his wishes.
Reporters also tracked down Individual A in February. He declined comment, but his wife acknowledged her husband is a victim. It is he who Hastert paid nearly half of an agreed $3.5 million in exchange for his silence about past misconduct.
Federal prosecutors long refused to acknowledge in court the motive behind the hush-money case — the sexual abuse of at least four former wrestlers and a student equipment manager. The Tribune’s investigation identified three of the five victims. Reporters spent several months contacting scores of athletes and students coached and taught by Hastert.
Cross said he responded to Tribune inquiries to learn more about the scope of the case. After months of correspondence, it became clear to him he was not the only victim. He told the Tribune he knows of other potential victims who have not come forward.
Cross said he hadn’t told a soul about the abuse until after the indictment was announced in May, and then he began to open up to his family, including older brother Tom Cross, who is the former longtime Illinois House GOP leader.
Tom Cross, 57, of Oswego, has credited Hastert with introducing him to political life and helping him ascend to public office.
Hastert asked the former lawmaker earlier this year if he would write a letter of support to help at sentencing, but Tom Cross by then was aware of his brother’s allegations and did not respond. After his younger brother testified Wednesday, Tom Cross issued as statement on behalf of their family.
“We are very proud of Scott for having the courage to relive this very painful part of his life in order to ensure that justice is done today,” the statement said. “We hope his testimony will provide courage and strength to other victims of other cases of abuse to speak out and advocate for themselves.”
Hastert, 74, apologized to his victims. Of Scott Cross, he said, “I don’t remember doing that, but I accept the statement.”
But Scott Cross, a married father, said it is something he will never forget. He once looked up to Hastert.
“As a young boy, I wanted to be part of what Coach Hastert had created,” Cross said. “I was a small guy with a lot of ambition, and wrestling seemed to be the perfect sport for me. ... He was a key figure in my life as a coach and a teacher.”
Late one night after practice his senior year, Cross stayed afterward to try to lose weight for an upcoming match. Hastert suggested a massage could take some pounds off. But instead Hastert “pulled down my shorts,” Cross testified, and touched him sexually. Stunned, Cross got dressed and ran out of the locker room immediately. He never told anyone.
“As a 17-year-old boy, I was devastated,” he testified. “I tried to figure out why Coach Hastert had singled me out. I felt very alone and tremendously embarrassed. I felt intense pain, shame and guilt. Today I understand that I did nothing to bring this on, but at age 17 I could not understand what happened or why.”
He also recalled Hastert’s habit of sitting in a recliner in direct view of the shower stalls and watching the teens while they showered. But, Cross said, “I had accepted this because I trusted him, and my teammates appeared to as well.”
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse after being sentenced to 15 months in prison on April 27, 2016.(Zbigniew Bzdak, Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. Speaker Dennis Hastert reports to the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., on Wednesday, June 22, 2016, in a to serve a 15-month sentence. His wife Jean is at left.(Andrew Link / Rochester Post-Bulletin)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse after his sentencing on April 27, 2016. He received 15 months in prison for illegally structuring $1.7 million in bank withdrawals, which he used as hush money to cover up sexual abuse from decades ago.(Antonio Prerez / Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves federal court after being sentenced to 15 months in prison on April 27, 2016.(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon speaks to the news media after the Dennis Hastert’s sentencing on April 27, 2016, at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.(Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
Scott Cross, left, wears a hat reading “Speaker Hastert” as he and others wait on Jan. 5, 1999, for new U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert to arrive at a reception at the Cannon Building in Washington, D.C. The event was sponsored by the Illinois State Society. Guests included then-Gov. George Ryan, former Gov. Jim Edgar, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Commerce Secretary Bill Daley.(Lake County News-Sun)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves Dirksen U.S. Courthouse after being sentenced to 15 months in prison on April 27, 2016.(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
A member of security sets up a barricade before former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives to be sentenced at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on April 27, 2016, in Chicago. Hastert was later sentenced to 15 months in prison.(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
A news helicopter hovers near a building while waiting for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert to leave the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on April 27, 2016, in Chicago.(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert enters the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago for sentencing on April 27, 2016.(Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
Yorkville High School student Scott Cross wins a wrestling match, as pictured in a Yorkville High School yearbook.(Yorkville High School yearbook)
Scott Cross in a 1980 senior yearbook photo. Cross identified himself as Individual D during former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s sentencing hearing on April 27, 2016.(Yorkville High School yearbook)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is wheeled through a column of news media and security as he arrives at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago for sentencing on April 27, 2016.(Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives for his sentencing in a wheelchair and passes by the news media at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on April 27, 2016.(Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives to be sentenced at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on April 27, 2016, in Chicago.(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert emerges from his vehicle into a wheelchair as he arrives April 27, 2016, at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago for his sentencing.(Nancy Stone / Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago for sentencing April 27, 2016.(Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives to be sentenced in federal court at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on April 27, 2016, in Chicago.(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert emerges from his vehicle as he arrives to the Dirkesen U.S. Courthouse for sentencing on April 27, 2016, in Chicago.(Armando L. Sanchez / Chicago Tribune)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives for sentencing at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on April 27, 2016.(Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune)
A Cadillac Escalade departs former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s home in Plano about 5:15 a.m. on April 27, 2016. Hastert is scheduled to be sentenced at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago later in the morning.(Mike Mantucca / Chicago Tribune)
Scott Cross graduated from Yorkville High School in 1980. In his final year, as team captain, he finished with 34 wins and five losses, and was a state qualifier. “Scott wins again!!!” read the caption under an old yearbook photo after a successful match. He also was a student leader who served on the homecoming court and letterman’s club.
Cross graduated at the end of Hastert’s coaching tenure, and their paths often crossed later in life as Tom Cross became political allies with Hastert. Scott Cross even supported Hastert politically, he said, all the while continuing to bury the “darkest secret” of what occurred so long ago.
Hastert left the high school in 1981 after he became a state representative. He served three terms before being elected to the U.S. House in 1986. He was speaker from 1999 until his retirement in 2007, then became a lobbyist.
After his emotional testimony, Scott Cross turned and walked directly out of the center of the Dirksen Federal Building courtroom without staying to hear Hastert’s 15-month prison term announced. Cross walked within a foot or two of Hastert, who kept his eyes straight ahead.
Cross also did not stick around to hear the widespread praise bestowed upon him afterward.
Durkin, who described Hastert as a “serial child molester” who abused “those who couldn’t or wouldn’t cry out,” praised Cross for coming forward. Later, outside of court, U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon echoed the judge’s sentiment and said Cross showed “extraordinary courage.”
"(Cross) stood up and was heard after decades of unfathomable silence,” Fardon said.
“That was courageous. That was selfless. That was important and I am in awe of it. Mr. Hastert hurt his victims many decades ago but today they struck back and in doing that they have given us strength. They have given us courage. And they have given us hope.”
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