When federal prosecutors started investigating the cash withdrawals from former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s bank account, they thought they would find evidence of a crime connected to his work as a high-powered lobbyist.
Instead, they uncovered the secrets that Hastert had spent more than $1.7 million to hide: Details of how he molested four underage boys in motel and locker rooms during his years as a high school wrestling coach in Illinois, according to a sentencing memo released late Friday.
Hastert abused boys as young as 14 years old decades ago before his time in public office, according to the memo that recommends he spend as much as six months in jail.
Those actions, federal prosecutors said, occurred not when Hastert entered the national public stage but “in his private one-on-one encounters in an empty locker room and a motel room with minors that violated the special trust between those young boys and their coach.”
The longest serving Republican Speaker became the focus of law enforcement and banking officials when he began withdrawing $50,000 increments from multiple banks that officials later discovered were paying an individual who said he was abused by Hastert.
Law enforcement at first thought the large withdrawals might be indicative of criminal activity related to business Hastert did with foreign countries, crimes in which he was either the perpetrator or the victim.
But it turned out the hush-money scheme was part of a $3.5 million agreement to compensate the individual for sexual abuse. Prosecutors say Hastert withdrew $1.7 million over four and a half years, a large portion of which was in $9,000 increments to avoid reporting requirements.
Hastert, 74, pleaded guilty in October to evading federal banking requirements. He is not facing sexual abuse charges due to the expiration of federal and state statutes of limitation.
When officials pressed Hastert on his banking activity, he defended his $50,000 withdrawals with a litany of reasons that included investing in the stock market and buying vintage cars.
Prosecutors later discovered Hastert was paying “Individual A” as a “private, personal matter” to keep quiet about sexual abuse while Hastert was a wrestling coach and teacher more than three decades ago in Yorkville, Ill.
The individual told law enforcement agents that during a trip to wrestling camp Hastert requested the boy stay in his motel room. There, Hastert massaged the boy’s groin area after he complained about a pull, the boy later gave Hastert a massage and shared the same bed that night.
The sentencing memo states the boy was “confused and embarrassed” and refused Hastert’s request to spend the night in his room the following evening.
The individual later met Hastert in 2010 and asked why he had done it. The former coach and teacher replied that it was “a confusing and difficult time in his life” and admitted to there being two victims of his abuse.
They met again shortly after where “Individual A” said he wanted $3.5 million from Hastert for what he did, at first suggesting a trusted lawyer to work out a settlement.
But Hastert refused to involve others or write anything down, the memo read.
The memo also details incidents where Hastert massaged and performed sexual acts on other boys in locker rooms and reclined in a Lazyboy-type chair to watch them shower.
The sister of one of the victims who has since died, Jolene Burdge, began making her brother’s accusations public after she confronted Hastert at his funeral in 1995.
Hastert served as House Speaker from 1999 to 2007, but the issue never surfaced, despite Burdge’s attempts to reach out to the press.
Attorneys wrote that “[i]t was against this backdrop that, once confronted by Individual A, defendant spent years violating banking laws of which he was fully aware in order to keep secret his sexual abuse of wrestling team members.”
Prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence Hastert to zero to six months in prison and a probation term that includes a sex offender evaluation.
Attorney’s for Hastert are asking a judge to sentence him to probation citing deteriorating health and “the humiliation and isolation” Hastert and his family have felt since the indictment last year.
Also Friday, Hastert’s attorneys requested that his response to a pre-sentence report be sealed so as to not disclose information classified as “sensitive.”
His sentencing is scheduled for April 27 in Chicago.
Hastert’s attorney, Thomas Green, said in a statement on Saturday through a spokeswoman his client is prepared to receive the court’s verdict. Green did not acknowledge the abuse allegations.
“Hastert acknowledges that as a young man he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry,” the statement read. “He earnestly apologizes to his former students, family, friends, previous constituents and all others affected by the harm his actions have caused.”