Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert to Plead Guilty in Sexual Abuse Hush-Money Case
CHICAGO (Reuters) — Former US House Speaker Dennis Hastert is expected to plead guilty in a hush-money case stemming from allegations of sexual misconduct in a deal with prosecutors that could still force him to serve time in prison.
The tentative plea agreement, disclosed during a brief hearing in federal court in Chicago on Thursday, October 15, would mark a dramatic downfall for someone who once ranked among the most powerful men in the country.
Hastert, 73, was charged in May with trying to hide large cash transactions as part of a payoff scheme and lying about it to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not say what charge he would plead guilty to or whether his sentence might include incarceration.
Federal prosecutors have accused him of agreeing to pay $3.5 million to an unidentified person from his hometown of Yorkville, Ill., to conceal past misconduct. He was a teacher at Yorkville High School in the 1960s and 1970s.
That person has not surfaced publicly, but anonymous law enforcement sources have told several media outlets that Hastert was trying to cover up sexual abuse of a male student when he worked as a high school teacher and wrestling coach.
Hastert’s agreement, to change his plea to guilty from not guilty in the case, was expected to be submitted to US District Judge Thomas Durkin on Monday, October 19, attorneys for Hastert said.
Hastert has not spoken publicly since his indictment, but Durkin set October 28 as the date for him to change his plea.
Hastert was the longest-serving Republican speaker, leading the House for eight years before leaving Congress in 2007 and becoming a lobbyist.
After his indictment, Hastert resigned from the Dickstein Shapiro lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., and from the boards of exchange operator CME Group Inc and REX American Resources Corp . Hastert’s foreign government client, Turkey, paid Dickstein $241,000 between August 2014 and December 2014, through the firm of former Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., according to the documents filed with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The Gephardt Group did not return a request seeking comment about whether the firm would hire a new shop to work on the Turkey account, according to Roll Call.
His alma mater, Wheaton College, a private Christian liberal arts school in suburban Chicago, removed his name from a policy center.
As Speaker of the US House, in October of 2000, Dennis Hastert killed the Armenian Genocide Resolution moments before its adoption.
Hastert had announced he would support the Armenian Genocide resolution. The resolution, vehemently opposed by Turkey, had passed the Human Rights Subcommittee of the House and the International Relations Committee but Hastert, although first supporting it, withdrew the resolution on the eve of the full House vote. He explained this by saying that he had received a letter from president Bill Clinton asking him to withdraw it, because it would harm U.S. interests.
A September 2005 article in Vanity Fair revealed that during her work, former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds had heard Turkish wiretap targets boast of covert relations with Hastert.
Lawyers for both sides said in September they were negotiating a plea deal to keep the case from going to trial. Durkin had asked both sides to bring him an agreement this week, or he would set a trial date.
Defense attorney Amy Richardson, who is not involved in Hastert’s case but often handles financial fraud matters, said it is unlikely Hastert will avoid jail time if he pleads guilty to a charge of “structuring” cash withdrawals to avoid detection by banking officials.
Such a plea could, however, avoid the public release of potentially embarrassing information about the case.
“One of the best side effects of taking the plea is that material regarding reported sexual abuse will not come out,” said Richardson, of the firm Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis.
Richardson said Hastert also may decide to waive a sentencing hearing, which otherwise would allow people to talk about his past behavior, both good and bad.
According to the indictment, Hastert withdrew $1.7 million in cash from his bank accounts from 2010 to 2014. He is charged with structuring $952,000 of the withdrawals, taking the funds out in increments of under $10,000 to evade a requirement that banks report large cash transactions.
Hastert then told the FBI that he was keeping the cash for himself, which the indictment said was a false statement.
Each of the charges carries a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.