Hastert Sentenced To 15 Months In Hush Money Case

By CBS Chicago
April 27, 2016

CHICAGO (CBS) - Calling former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert a "serial child molester," a federal judge has sentenced him to 15 months in prison for trying to skirt banking regulations to conceal hush money payments intended to cover up sex abuse allegations from the time he was a high school wrestling coach and teacher in Yorkville decades ago.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin handed down the sentence Wednesday. In addition to xxxx, Hastert must serve two years of supervised release - the federal equivalent of parole - and must participate in a sex offender program after his release from custody.

"Nothing is more stunning than uttering serial child molester and Speaker of the House in the same sentence," Durkin said.

The judge lamented that he could not sentence Hastert as a sex offender, because the statute of limitations has long since passed on Hastert's abuse of teenage boys. He noted, if Hastert's sex crimes had come to light when they occurred, he could have been convicted of sexual abuse and spent decades in prison.

"Some conduct is unforgivable no matter how old it is," he said.

Durkin also blasted Hastert for lying to the FBI when he was questioned about the bank withdrawals, and trying to frame one of his victims, identified only as "Individual A," for extortion.

Durkin said it was "unconscionable" for Hastert to tell the FBI that Individual A was extorting him with false allegations of sex abuse.

"You set him up," Durkin said, adding that Individual A might have been forced to endure more suffering because Hastert tried to portray himself as a victim.

Hastert's attorneys had asked Durkin to sentence him to probation only, but Durkin said that would not be appropriate.

Durkin's ruling came after Hastert admitted for the first time to molesting boys decades ago, and apologized for sexually abusing members of the wrestling team at Yorkville High School when he was a coach and teacher in the 1970s and 80s.

"I am deeply ashamed to be standing before you today," Hastert said, "I know I am here because I mistreated some of my athletes."

"I am sorry to those I hurt. What I did was wrong. I regret it. I took advantage of them," he added.

Hastert also apologized to his victims, their families, the government, his friends, and his former constituents for "subjecting them to everything that's happened."

At the hearing, it was revealed one of the victims was Scott Cross, the brother of former Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross.

Scott Cross, 53, said he wanted to be part of the wrestling team Hastert coached at Yorkville High School when he was a teen.

"As a high school wrestler, I looked up to Coach Hastert," he said.

He said Hastert took him on trips to wrestling camps, and named him captain of the team, but abused him in his senior year of high school in the 1980s.

"He sexually abused me. I was alone in that locker room. I trusted him," Cross said.

Scott Cross said he had gone to Hastert because he was concerned about making weight for the team. Cross cried audibly as he described how Hastert pulled down his shorts, and began to massage him and touch his penis. He said he ran out of the locker room, but told no one.

"I was embarrassed. I couldn't understand what happened and why," he said.

Cross said he didn't tell his parents about the abuse until last year, when Hastert was prosecuted over hush money payments to another victim.

"I felt what he did to me was my dark secret," he said. "Judge Durkin, I wanted you to know the pain and suffering he caused me then, and today."

Steve Cross's brother, Tom, was the Illinois House Republican leader from 2002 to 2013, and was a former political protégé of Hastert's. He ran for state treasurer in 2014, but lost.

Stunningly, Hastert's defense team acknowledged he called Tom Cross to write a letter of support for him before sentencing. They said Hastert must have compartmentalized the sex abuse he committed, and that's how he managed to ask a victim's brother for his support.

Tom Cross issued a statement on behalf of his family shortly after his brother left the witness stand:

"We are very proud of Scott for having the courage to relive this very painful part of his life in order to ensure that justice is done today. We hope his testimony will provide courage and strength to other victims of other cases of abuse to speak out and advocate for themselves. With his testimony concluded, we ask now that you respect Scott's privacy and that of our family."

Earlier in the hearing, Jolene Burdge, the sister of another Hastert sex abuse victim, blamed Hastert for her brother's death in 1995.

Standing two feet from Hastert as she spoke, Burdge said her brother, Steve Reinboldt, told her years ago that Hastert had abused him when he was on the wrestling team at Yorkville High School, where Hastert was a teacher and coach in the 1970s and 80s.

Burdge called Hastert a coward and a sex abuser of children.

"I knew your secret. I hope I have been your worst nightmare," she said. "You think you can deny your abuse of Steve, because he cannot speak for himself. That's why I am here."

She said her brother spent years suffering from "life-long trauma" because of Hastert's abuse, and blamed him for Reinboldt's death. Burdge said it would be "impossible and morally wrong" for Hastert go get off easy for his crimes.

Hastert, 74, has pleaded guilty to violating federal breaking banking laws by withdrawing money in amounts small enough to avoid reporting requirements, in order to pay $3.5 million in hush money to a person identified in court papers only as "Individual A." Hastert allegedly wanted to ensure "Individual A" stayed silent about being abused by Hastert when the victim was only 14 years old.

Federal prosecutors have said Hastert abused at least four other boys, but he wasn't charged with sex abuse - as they would have preferred - because statutes of limitations 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.

Prosecutors had recommended up to six months in prison, while defense attorneys had asked for probation only, citing his health and the steep price they say he's already paid in public shame.

However, even before Wednesday's sentencing hearing, Durkin hinted he would go beyond the sentence recommendations by using against Hastert the lies he told to FBI agents that he was the victim of extortion.

Federal prosecutors have said Hastert lied about being extorted by a former student who accused him of sexual abuse. He allegedly told the feds the sex abuse allegations were false and the victims were out to smear his good name.

While "Individual A" did not testify at Hastert's sentencing, he has sued the former House Speaker for breach of contract, saying Hastert agreed to pay him $3.5 million in hush money, but has paid only $1.7 million so far. The lawsuit, filed in Kendall County, seeks the remaining $1.8 million.

The plaintiff has accused Hastert of sexually abusing him in a motel room while at a wrestling camp when the plaintiff was 14 and Hastert was wrestling coach at Yorkville High School. The camp was for high school students and the suit says Hastert invited the plaintiff to it even though he was not yet in high school at the time.