Hastert slated to plead guilty in federal hush-money case

28 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Dennis Hastert expected to plead guilty Wednesday in federal court.

CHICAGO — Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday in a hush-money case — a move that will seal the downfall of a politician who rose from obscurity in rural Illinois to the third-highest office in the nation. The hearing in Chicago will be the 73-year-old Republican’s first court appearance since June, when he pleaded not guilty in the wake of an indictment alleging he agreed to pay $3.5 million to someone referred to only as “Individual A” to hide past misconduct by Hastert.

Some key events in Hastert’s life and career and the criminal case against him: 1980: Hastert comes in third in state House primary, but the GOP chooses him to replace the fatally ill primary winner. The Associated Press and other media, citing anonymous sources, have reported that the payments were meant to conceal claims of sexual misconduct decades ago.

Hastert later wins the general election. 1998: Hastert tells incumbent House Speaker Newt Gingrich that dissatisfaction in GOP ranks makes it unlikely the Georgia lawmaker will hold onto post. When the FBI arrived at Hastert’s Plano estate on that snowy Monday morning, he had already been questioned by banks about a series of unusual $50,000 cash withdrawals he had made two years earlier. So when prosecutors dropped a bombshell indictment in May and hinted at an even more sensational scandal yet to be uncovered, most predicted Hastert would march into a courtroom and plead guilty — even risk a prison sentence — to keep it under wraps. Hastert, 73, was charged by federal prosecutors 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.

Still, he tried to keep his secret hidden, telling agents he was trying to store his own money because he didn’t feel safe with the banking system, according to prosecutors. Hastert denies reports he may have known about the allegations earlier. 2007: Hastert steps down as speaker after becoming longest-serving Republican in the position.

Though the indictment only hints at the alleged wrongdoing, federal law enforcement sources have told the Tribune that Hastert was paying to cover up the sexual abuse of a student when Hastert was a wrestling coach and teacher at Yorkville High School. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy is founded at Wheaton College. 2012-2014: When Hastert learns any withdrawals over $10,000 are flagged, he allegedly begins withdrawing cash in increments just under $10,000 and uses the money to pay $952,000 to Individual A. MAY 28, 2015: Hastert is indicted on one count of seeking to skirt bank reporting requirements and one count of lying to the FBI about the reason for his cash withdrawals. That has been kept a well-guarded secret despite a concerted attempt by media outlets across the country to confirm who was allegedly receiving the payments from Hastert. It’s something I’m sure he wishes he didn’t have to go through.” It’s still not clear what charge Hastert will admit to, or if he will ultimately face prison time.

In addition, with such dry charges involved, the written plea agreement with prosecutors might not mention, let alone detail, Hastert’s underlying, allegedly sensational motive for paying Individual A. Prosecutors are required only to present a factual basis for the charges and tell the judge what they intended to prove if the case had gone to trial. Courthouse — just his second since the shocking charges were announced in May — is expected to spark a media frenzy and has prompted court officials to set up an overflow courtroom and extra security measures for the anticipated crowds.

Between June 2010 and April 2012, the indictment said, Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 from his bank accounts and gave the cash to “Individual A” every six weeks. Both Hastert’s lawyers and the U.S. attorney’s office have declined to comment on the parameters of the agreement or whether there is a recommended sentence. Durkin, who must approve the plea agreement before it is finalized, will likely set a sentencing date for Hastert at the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing. For the structuring count involving alleged evasion of currency-reporting requirements in the amount of $952,000, which is the total alleged in the indictment, federal guidelines would call for a range of 30 to 37 months in prison, assuming Hastert is credited for accepting responsibility, said Robert Loeb, a criminal defense attorney who has defended numerous bank structuring cases.

Hastert was dogged by scandal near the end of his term as speaker over the response of Republican leadership to improper advances toward underage male pages by then-Rep. When they asked if he was taking out so much cash because he didn’t think it was safe in banks, Hastert allegedly answered: “Yeah, I kept the cash. In 2012, a Tribune investigation found that the former legislator had conducted private business ventures through a little-known, taxpayer-financed office. A: After leaving Congress in 2007, Hastert parlayed his connections on Capitol Hill into a lucrative lobbying career that will almost certainly be ruined with a felony conviction.

By that time, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service had launched an investigation into whether Hastert’s bank withdrawals were illegal, according to the indictment.

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