CHICAGO (AP) — The judge in Dennis Hastert’s hush-money case signaled Wednesday that he will consider the former U.S. House Speaker’s lies to investigators that he was being extorted on a false claim of sexual abuse at his sentencing hearing, where prosecutors say one person who says he was abused will speak.
Someone identified in court papers as “Individual D,” one of at least four former students who prosecutors say Hastert sexually abused, would be one of two witnesses who want to make statements at the April 27 sentencing, prosecutors also said at a Chicago hearing. The other is a sister of a now-deceased accuser.
Hastert has pleaded guilty to breaking banking law to pay $3.5 million to ensure someone called “Individual A” in court papers stayed silent about being abused when he was 14 at a high school where Hastert coached wrestling until 1981. Hastert wasn’t charged with sex abuse because statutes of limitations long since ran out.
Judge Thomas M. Durkin made clear he is disturbed by prosecutors’ accounts that Hastert lied to federal agents investigating about why he was withdrawing large sums of cash by falsely accusing “Individual A” of extorting him on what Hastert said was a bogus accusation of sexual abuse.
Hastert, the judge said, was accusing someone he victimized of “holding him up.” And he said that behavior, unlike the abuse allegations, wasn’t distant history.
“That’s not conduct that’s 40 years old,” Durkin said. “That conduct is … a year old.” About Hastert’s false allegations against Individual A he added: “That’s a big one.”
When federal agents first questioned Hastert in December 2014, they had no inkling that sexual abuse was at the core of his payments, prosecutors said in a filing last week. But within weeks, Hastert began claiming that Individual A was extorting him on false accusations.
But after Hastert agreed to record calls to Individual A and after agents later interviewed the man, agents concluded he never tried to threaten Hastert. Prosecutors say Individual A even asked Hastert repeatedly to bring in lawyers to formalize their agreement — but it was Hastert who refused to involve anyone else, prosecutors said.
Hastert sexually abused at least four members of the wrestling team when he taught and coached at Yorkville High from 1965 until 1981, according to prosecutors. They cite Individual A as saying the abuse occurred in a motel room when he was 14 and on the way home from wrestling camp. Hastert allegedly touched others in a locker room after saying he would give them massages. Two wrestlers said Hastert performed sex acts on them. Prosecutors also described a recliner where Hastert often sat in the locker room with a direct view of the stalls where the boys showered.
The prosecutors have said they would have preferred sex-abuse charges, but the statute of limitation on sexual abuse ran out decades ago. Still, prosecutors considered Hastert’s conduct with the victims, all boys 14 to 17 years old, so egregious that they chose to pursue the banking charge to ensure he faced some punishment.
Defense lawyers have asked for the judge to spare Hastert prison time and give him probation instead, citing his health and the steep price they say he’s already paid in public shame.
The statutory maximum for the banking violation is five years in prison, but sentencing guidelines suggest no more than a matter of months. Federal judges have enormous leeway, so Durkin will not be bound by the guidelines.