Yorkville turns on Hastert as details of allegations emerge
The small town that boasted of the role it played in Dennis Hastert’s ascent from high school wrestling coach to speaker of the U.S. House spoke bitterly of him on Saturday, a day after prosecutors detailed allegations that Hastert sexually abused several members of the team.
The Illinois Republican’s reputation for congeniality contrasts with the government’s portrayal of him in a presentencing filing late Friday as a manipulator who exploited his mentor role to prey on young athletes. Prosecutors say he also lied to investigators about why he agreed to pay one alleged victim $3.5 million, falsely accusing the victim of trying to extort him.
The Hastert revelations have made Yorkville seem less idyllic, Mike Piatkowski, a 65-year-old retired UPS driver, said as he watched his grandson, a freshman at Yorkville High School, at a Saturday baseball practice.
“It’s going to be hard to trust anybody, especially with the kids,” he said.
The court documents detail sexual abuse allegations involving at least four boys that took place at a motel or in the boys locker room at Yorkville High School, where Hastert taught and coached from 1965 until 1981. It describes a “Lazyboy” style chair where Hastert often sat in the locker room with a direct view of the stalls where the boys showered.
An emailed statement from Hastert’s lawyer, Thomas Green, on Saturday — as in earlier defense filings — refers only in general terms to past misconduct by Hastert.
“Mr. Hastert acknowledges that as a young man he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry,” Green wrote.
Hastert helped put Yorkville on the map during his eight years as House speaker, making his unmasking all the more painful, several residents said.
Bob Evans, a former school colleague and friend of Hastert’s, recalled telling someone during a fishing trip in Canada years ago that he was from Yorkville and the person knowing it was the House speaker’s hometown.
“It hurts even more because we were all so proud of him,” he said of Hastert’s fall from grace.
Hastert left Yorkville High School for the state Legislature in the early 1980s. He entered Congress in 1987 and became speaker in 1999, holding the spot until his retirement in 2007. He now lives near Yorkville, in Plano.
In the court filing, prosecutors say Hastert “was so sure his secrets were safe that he apparently had no fears about entering a profession where one is subject to constant scrutiny and media attention.”
The lingering good will for Hastert even after the May 2015 indictment was unsealed now seems to have largely dissipated in Yorkville.
Russ Scholl, 70, said he didn’t want to believe the allegations at first. Now, he says, Hastert needs to go to prison and “pay for what he did.”
Tony Graff, Yorkville’s former police chief, said that although the Hastert scandal has left the town with a black eye, locals have always had other things to be proud of, including a tradition of community service.
“The pride is still there,” he said. “The community will get through this.”
Jason Keyser and Michael Tarm, Associated Press
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