Former U.S. speaker of the House sentenced for hush money payments


Lou Foglia

Dennis Hastert, former U.S. speaker of the House, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for violating federal banking laws on April 27. 

By metro editor

Former Speaker of the U.S. House Dennis Hastert was sentenced April 27 to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay $250,000 to a victims’ fund after pleading guilty to withdrawals of hush money that went to a former student he sexually abused as a high school wrestling coach.

The case against Hastert also identified other young men he abused while a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School; However, Hastert could only be charged with violating banking laws because of the statute of limitations on child sex crimes. Because of this, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin called the sentence “not sufficient.”

When pressed by Durkin, Hastert admitted to abusing “individual B,” an anonymous victim, and Stephen Reinboldt. When asked about the abuse of another victim, Scott Cross, Hastert said, “I don’t remember doing that, but I accept his statement.”

“Some actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works,” Durkin said during the sentencing. 

“Nothing is more stunning than having the words ‘serial child molester’ and ‘Speaker of the House’ in the same sentence. Nothing is more disturbing than having the words ‘child molester’ and ‘coach’ and ‘teacher’ in the same sentence. Both sentences are true,” he said. 

One of the victims, formerly known as “individual D,” took the stand and introduced himself as Scott Cross, brother of Tom Cross, who is the Illinois State Representative from the 84th District. Scott Cross spoke about the abuse he endured decades earlier as a senior and captain of the wrestling team at Yorkville High School.

Cross said he saw Hastert as a role model. After taking a moment to compose himself and fighting back tears, he stated “Coach Hastert sexually abused me my senior year of high school.”

Cross said he never told anyone about the abuse until other accusations became public because, as a 17-year-old boy, he was “devastated,” “felt alone” and was “tremendously embarrassed.”

“I could no longer remain silent,” Cross said.

Cross said he now understands he did not provoke the abuse.

Jolene Burdge, sister of Stephen Reinboldt, spoke on behalf of her deceased brother at the sentencing.

She said their family life was tough growing up and that Reinboldt trusted Hastert, who betrayed that trust when he abused him. She also wondered aloud whether Hastert was truly sorry for the things he had done or only regretted that he

was caught.

Burdge said that after being abused by Hastert, her brother went down a path of high-risk reckless behavior that ultimately led to his death in 1995.

“Don’t be a coward, Mr. Hastert,” Burdge said. “Tell the truth—you took his life.”

Neither Cross nor Burdge spoke to Hastert but stood and spoke to Durkin with their backs to Hastert, who was seated in a wheelchair at a nearby table.

Hastert’s conviction stemmed from structured transactions, the process of  withdrawing funds in small increments to avoid finances being put under federal scrutiny. Durkin said Hastert did this to pay off “individual A,” who was one of his victims.

From June 2010 to April 2012, Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 from three different banks, and when Hastert was questioned by the banks and notified that Currency Transaction Reports were being filed, he lied and told them he was using the money to purchase antique cars and buy stock, Durkin noted in sentencing Hastert.

Durkin said that from then on, Hastert began withdrawing in amounts less than $10,000 to avoid filling out paperwork, and from 2010 to 2014 a total of $1.7 million was withdrawn from various banks and paid to “individual A.”

The structuring laws were well known to Hastert because he had some role in passing them, Durkin observed.

“I have never seen a more obvious and clear-cut violation of the criminal structuring laws,” Durkin said.

Not only did Hastert lie about why he was withdrawing the money, but when questioned by the FBI, Hastert lied and said that “individual A” was extorting him for false allegations of molestation, Durkin noted.

Hastert’s defense attorneys, Thomas Green and John Gallo, tried to argue that the judge should consider the “entire arc of his life,” mentioning his contributions as a public servant and speaker of the House.

Hastert’s lawyers said he “made some very poor decisions” when “individual A” came to him for money years ago and he “retreated to survival instinct” when the FBI questioned him about his withdrawals.

They also said Hastert recently had a stroke that “brought him close to his demise,” and told the judge he was now 

incapable of caring for himself, and the best place for Hastert was at home where his family could care for him.

The defense also said they thought the tarnishing of Hastert’s name was punishment enough for his crimes.

Hastert spoke after his defense, requiring assistance getting up from his wheelchair and walking a few steps to the microphone.

Hastert said he was “deeply ashamed” that he mistreated his athletes, structured payments and lied to the FBI. He said he was coming to terms with what he did and was getting professional help.

Hastert apologized to the court, his family and the students he coached. He said he was ready to accept his punishment.

Before adjourning, Durkin made a statement to the court.

“This is a horrible case, a horrible set of circumstances, horrible for the defendant, horrible for the victims, horrible for our country. I hope I never have to see a case like this again.”

Erica Zunkel, an assistant clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago, said she was surprised to see the judge hand down a 15-month sentence when the sentencing guidelines for violating bank structuring laws call for zero-to-six months.

“The interesting thing is that the sentencing became much more about this sexual abuse,” Zunkel said. “The sentence reflects the judge’s feelings about that, I think maybe more so than the actual charge. It’s a strange case.”

Zunkel said generally, the theory behind the statute of limitations is that it would be unfair to charge someone a long period of time after the crime, she said. For example, in Hastert’s case, it may be difficult to gather evidence more than 40 years after the conduct took place.

“I think there are a lot of people who feel very angry that he couldn’t be charged now,” Zunkel said. “People feel he should have gotten more time and that he would have gotten more time had he been actually charged with criminal sexual abuse of minors.”