Ex-speaker Dennis Hastert pleads guilty in hush money case

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Dennis Hastert, former House speaker, pleads guilty.

Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the House, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to trying to evade federal banking laws, telling a district judge here that he had known what he was doing was wrong. CHICAGO – Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty Wednesday to evading banking laws in a hush-money scheme, averting a trial by agreeing to a deal with federal prosecutors that recommends the former House speaker serve no more than six months in prison. The plea brought a quick, quiet finish to a proceeding that had startled many in Washington who once knew Hastert as one of the nation’s most powerful leaders, and in Yorkville, Illinois, his rural hometown, who remembered Hastert as their winning high school wrestling coach. Before accepting the plea, the 73-year-old Republican was warned by the judge that he could go beyond the deal’s recommendation and give Hastert up to five years behind bars when he is sentenced in February. He admitted in court to lying to officials, but a charge of lying to the FBI is expected to be dropped by prosecutors in exchange for him pleading guilty to the banking law charge.

Under the plea agreement, Hastert admitted agreeing to pay $3.5 million to an unnamed “Individual A” to hide past misconduct, and took out nearly $1 million from his bank accounts, and tried to hide the withdrawals from authorities. He said he started by withdrawing cash $50,000 at a time, but when banking officials questioned him, he began taking out less than $10,000 at a time to avoid federal reporting requirements. The indictment says the payments were meant to conceal past misconduct by Hastert against that person but does not explain the nature of the wrongdoing.

Hastert told the judge why he had structured bank withdrawals in an attempt to avoid detection. “I didn’t want them to know how I would spend the money,” he said. Hastert, who was once the third-highest ranking elected official in America, was surrounded by his attorneys and federal marshals who escorted him out of the downtown courthouse to a waiting car following the hearing.

District Court in Chicago, a subdued Hastert read from a brief written statement that — like his indictment — focused narrowly on how he technically broke banking laws. The indictment, unsealed nearly five months ago, referred to the alleged wrongdoing by Hastert as “prior misconduct” against someone identified as “Individual A” but did not offer any details.

By pleading guilty, Hastert avoids a trial that could have divulged the embarrassing secrets he presumably wanted to keep under wraps by paying hush money. But federal law enforcement officials told USA TODAY that Hastert made illegally structured withdrawals as part of an effort to conceal sexual misconduct he committed against a male student decades earlier when he worked at Yorkville High School.

Judges are also generally more likely to give lighter sentences to defendants who accept responsibility for their actions and spare the government the cost of a trial. He made his way through the public entrance, went through a security screening and was escorted by several federal marshals past a line of TV cameras. As Hastert finished, the judge immediately asked: “Did you know that what you were doing was wrong?” Since the plea deal offers a wide punishment range, February’s sentencing hearing could feature arguments from prosecutors on why Hastert should spend some time behind bars and from the defense about why he should be spared prison. The guilty plea to a relatively technical-sounding violation seemed harmless in comparison with the damaging suggestions raised by the indictment and by some briefed on the investigation months ago. At the time, agents asked if he was withdrawing the money because he did not feel safe with the banking system, Hastert allegedly responded, “Yeah . . .

We will decide that at a later date.” Prosecutors could theoretically call the unnamed person Hastert was allegedly paying, a prospect that could make public the conduct Hastert sought to conceal. The change-of-plea hearing was the longtime GOP leader’s first court appearance since his arraignment in June, when he pleaded not guilty in the same courtroom in Chicago. The former student, who remains unidentified, did not come forward publicly. “The one thing this defendant clearly didn’t want to have was – essentially – his day in court,” said Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor here who is not involved in this case. “He doesn’t want the reason for the structuring to come out. It seems that he spent $1.7 million or so to keep this secret, and his motivation now would seem to be keeping that secret.” In Chicago, where corruption trials for public officials are painfully common, Hastert was only the latest in a series of officials to appear in this courthouse. Still, Dick Simpson, a political scientist and former Chicago alderman whose analysis of convictions since 1976 suggests that this is the most corrupt metropolitan region in the United States, said the remaining unknowns around Hastert’s case were unusual.

We have no further comment about the matter at this time.” Hastert resigned from a lucrative lobbyist position at the Washington firm Dickstein Shapiro, and stepped down from the board of directors of the Chicago options operator CME Group. Jackson Jr., the former Democratic representative who pleaded guilty in 2013 to fraud, details were made public down to the campaign money he spent on a fedora that once belonged to Michael Jackson, on stuffed animals from Build-A-Bear and on an elk head from Montana. Following the announcement of the indictment, the sister of one of Hastert’s old wrestling team managers alleged was sexually abused by Hastert when he was a teen.

Jolene Burdge of Billings, Mont., told ABC News that her brother, Steve Reinboldt, who died of AIDS in 1995, confided to her that he was the victim of four years of sexual abuse by Hastert. For Hastert, who already seemed to have faded in political memory by the time of his indictment, the events were a puzzling coda to what had been an unlikely political career.

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