Hastert says he’s ‘deeply sorry’ for misconduct decades ago

Chicago Tribune

Three weeks before Dennis Hastert faces sentencing on hush-money charges, his lawyers laid out their reasons for probation in a court filing Wednesday that says the former U.S. House speaker is “profoundly sorry” for the harm he caused others decades ago.

The carefully worded filing suggests Hastert’s attorneys will likely have to walk a fine line when he is sentenced April 27 by U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin.

While Hastert feels remorse for those he has harmed, his lawyers said, they stopped short of acknowledging accusations he sexually abused students when he was a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School. In fact, they singled out his teaching and coaching background for praise, saying he chose that career path to “make a difference in the lives of young people.”

They also contended that Hastert had “reshaped his life” many years ago.


In their appeal for mercy, Hastert’s lawyers appeared to rely on a number of tried-and-true arguments in federal court — most notably that his transgressions pale in comparison to the accomplishments of his otherwise law-abiding life and that the humiliation and shame brought by the indictment itself were punishment enough.

Like many other defendants, Hastert’s sentencing filing also plays up what his lawyers say is his deep religious conviction, his devotion to his family and recent health concerns that could make serving time in prison extraordinarily difficult for the 74-year-old.

“What we do know is that he will stand before the Court having deteriorated both physically and emotionally, undoubtedly in part due to public shaming and humiliation of an unprecedented degree,” wrote Hastert’s attorneys, Thomas Green and John Gallo.

In pleading guilty to an illegal bank structuring charge in October, Hastert admitted he arranged with a person identified only as Individual A to pay a total of $3.5 million to cover up misconduct from decades ago while he was a high school wrestling coach and teacher in Yorkville. He also admitted lying to FBI agents when questioned in 2014 about suspicious bank withdrawals.


Though the plea agreement and the original indictment only hint at the alleged wrongdoing, federal law enforcement sources have told the Tribune that Hastert was paying to cover up the sexual abuse of a student from decades earlier.

Last month, it was revealed in open court that another alleged sexual abuse victim identified only as Individual D had recently come forward and was considering testifying at Hastert’s sentencing. In addition, the sister of a deceased third victim is expected to testify that her brother had told her Hastert abused him when he was a student and wrestling team manager.

The details could prove crucial in determining whether Hastert gets prison time. His plea agreement with prosecutors recommends a sentence ranging from probation to up to six months behind bars — the lowest possible sentence under federal guidelines for a felony conviction.

Prosecutors could reveal more details of the alleged abuse in a sentencing memorandum that’s due Friday.


In their filing, Hastert’s attorneys recounted his rise from humble beginnings as a small-town schoolteacher to the longest-serving Republican House speaker in U.S. history. His “swift and devastating” fall from grace after his bombshell indictment in 2015 left him in a “state of despair caused by extreme isolation and the withdrawal of support from many friends and former colleagues,” the filing stated.

The media frenzy that followed left Hastert’s reputation in tatters, his lawyers said. Television news trucks camped out for days on the lawn of Hastert’s Plano home, helicopters circled overhead and reporters even followed his family to Wisconsin when they tried to escape the intense scrutiny, according to the filing.

As he awaited trial in virtual hiding, Hastert’s portrait was removed from the U.S. Capitol, he was forced to withdraw from numerous boards and institutions, and the tight-knit community that had long been his base of support turned against him, his lawyers said.

“Mr. Hastert knows that the days of him being welcomed in the small towns he served all of his life are gone forever,” the filing said. “He knows that, for the rest of his life, wherever he goes, the public warmth and affection that he previously received will be replaced by hostility and isolation.”


The filing also noted Hastert’s fragile medical condition, which was first revealed earlier this year when his attorneys disclosed in court that Hastert had nearly died of a rare blood infection and stroke in November.

Hastert must often use a wheelchair and needs assistance getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, bathing and dressing himself, the filing stated.

Durkin has appointed a doctor from Northwestern Memorial Hospital to review Hastert’s health records in advance of his sentencing.

Hastert admitted in his plea agreement he paid about $1.7 million in hush money to Individual A beginning in June 2010, first by making $50,000 bank withdrawals and giving the cash to Individual A at meetings that occurred about every six weeks.


But after bank officials warned Hastert in April 2012 that such large withdrawals had to be reported to financial regulators, he began illegally structuring the transactions in increments of less than $10,000 to avoid federal reporting requirements, according to the plea agreement. Over the next 21/2 years, Hastert made a total of 106 withdrawals in increments of less than $10,000, totaling $952,000.

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