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Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert abused four teenagers, prosecutors say

Dennis Hastert

Prosecutors said in a court filing that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert paid hush money to conceal sex abuse of a 14-year-old.

(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press )

Dennis Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to a person the former House speaker sexually abused when the victim was 14 years old and Hastert was working as a high school teacher and wrestling coach outside Chicago, prosecutors said in a court filing Friday that gave accounts of four alleged sex-abuse victims.

The filing is the first time prosecutors have formally asserted that Hastert paid hush money to conceal sex abuse of a 14-year-old, identified in court documents as “Individual A.” The filing recommends that a federal judge sentence Hastert to up to six months in prison. The sex abuse allegations outlined in the filing occurred when Hastert was working at Yorkville High School in Illinois from 1965 to 1981, before he went into politics.

“While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them. Some have managed better than others, but all of them carry the scars defendant inflicted upon them,” the filing says.

Hastert, now 74, managed to keep any hint of sexual misconduct quiet throughout a political career that carried him from the Illinois Legislature to Congress and eventually to the speaker’s office, second in the line of succession to the presidency.

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Hastert pleaded guilty in October to breaking banking laws as he sought to pay Individual A, allegedly to ensure the person kept quiet about Hastert’s past misconduct. Hastert is scheduled to be sentenced April 27.

Individual A is one of at least four people cited in Friday’s filing as saying that Hastert sexually abused them as children. Three were wrestlers on a team Hastert coached and the fourth was a student-manager. Another wrestler said Hastert touched his genitals while he was on a locker room massage table, but he wasn’t sure whether it was intentional, the filing says. 

According to the document, Individual A told prosecutors the abuse occurred in a motel room on the way home from a trip to wrestling camp. Between 10 and 14 boys were on the trip. Hastert, the only adult on the trip, told the 14-year-old that he would stay in his room while the other boys stayed in a different room. Individual A said Hastert touched him inappropriately after suggesting he would massage a groin injury the boy had complained about earlier.

The other former wrestlers told prosecutors Hastert touched them in the locker room at Yorkville High, after saying he would give them massages. Two of those wrestlers, who were ages 14 and 17, say Hastert performed sex acts on them.

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Hastert’s “history and characteristics are marred by stunning hypocrisy,” prosecutors wrote. He made his victims “feel alone, ashamed, guilty and devoid of dignity.”

The filing added: “It is profoundly sad that one of their earliest sexual experiences was in the form of abuse by a man whom they trusted and whom they revered as a mentor and coach.”

A defense filing Wednesday asked the presiding judge to give Hastert probation and spare him prison time. It cited Hastert’s deteriorating health, as well as the public shame he’s already suffered.

The case has been shrouded in secrecy since the May 2015 indictment. Prosecutors only confirmed at a hearing last month that sex-abuse claims were at its core.

Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 each — for a total of $750,000 — from 2010 to 2012. It’s what he did next that made his actions a crime. After learning withdrawals over $10,000 are flagged, he withdrew cash in smaller increments, taking out a total of $952,000 from 2012 to 2014.

Court records say Hastert managed to pay $1.7 million to Individual A — handing it over in lump sums of $100,000 cash — starting in 2010. The payments abruptly stopped late in 2014 after FBI agents questioned Hastert about his massive cash withdrawals.

Hastert left Yorkville High for the state Legislature in 1981. He entered Congress in 1987. His reputation for congeniality helped him ascend to become the longest-serving Republican speaker. He retired in 2007 after running the chamber for eight years.

Wednesday’s defense filing said Hastert is devastated by his public disgrace and was especially hurt by the removal of his portrait from the U.S. Capitol. It added that he was apologetic and “overwhelmed” by guilt. But it offers no detail on what he feels guilty about.

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Days after pleading guilty on Oct. 28, Hastert entered the hospital and nearly died from a blood infection, his lawyers have said. They’ve also said he had a stroke and required in-home care to help him dress and complete other basic tasks.

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