Former Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), who served as speaker of the House from 1999 until 2007, has pleaded guilty to evading currency-reporting requirements, a charge related to his alleged payment of millions in hush money to someone blackmailing him about "past misconduct." That misconduct, multiple news sources have reported, relates to sexual abuse of a student during Hastert's time as a high school gym teacher and wrestling coach.
Sentencing will take place on February 29. Hastert faces either probation or up to six months in prison. His plea deal does not require him to disclose the alleged misconduct for which he was making the hush money payments.
Hastert had pleaded not guilty in June to the charge of evading currency reporting requirements — for withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in total but less than $10,000 at a time; banks are required to report and investigate cash withdrawals above $10,000 — and another charge of lying to the FBI about it. As part of the plea deal, he is pleading guilty to the evading reporting requirements charge but not the lying to the FBI charge.
The judge, Thomas Durkin, asked Hastert to explain in his own words what he thought he did wrong. "I didn't want [bank officials] to know how I intended to spend the money," Hastert said, per a Chicago Tribune account. "I withdrew the money in less than $10,000 increments."
Here's the plea deal:
And you can read the full initial indictment, detailing the allegations against Hastert, here:
Hastert allegedly made hush money payments to cover up sexual abuse he perpetrated as a high school coach/teacher
The indictment refers to the blackmailer solely as "Individual A" and notes that he or she "has been a resident of Yorkville, Illinois and has known defendant John Dennis Hastert most of Individual A’s life."
Nowhere in the indictment does it actually say what dirt Individual A had on Hastert, or why Hastert was so intent on keeping it a secret. According to a report by BuzzFeed's John Stanton, Andrew Kaczynski, and Evan McMorris-Santoro, the indictment was left vague in part because the prosecutor was pressured by Hastert's lawyers.
The day after the indictment was made public, the LA Times's Richard Serrano and Timothy Phelps reported that Hastert was being blackmailed for sexual abuse he allegedly perpetrated during his time as a high school teacher and wrestling coach, before being elected to Congress. "It goes back a long way, back to then," one official told them. "It has nothing to do with public corruption or a corruption scandal. Or to his time in office." Since then, the sister of Steve Reinboldt, who was the student equipment manager for Hastert's wrestling team while in high school, has alleged that her brother, who died in 1995, was molested by Hastert circa 1970-'71.
Hastert allegedly withdrew about $1.7 million from 2010 to 2014 and provided it to Individual A. Initially, he allegedly made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 from 2010 to 2012 (for a total of $750,000), and gave money to Individual A every six weeks or so, but after bank representatives questioned him about the withdrawals, he allegedly started taking out less than $10,000 at a time. Banks are required to report and look into any cash withdrawals in excess of $10,000; evading that requirement by using smaller withdrawals ("structuring"), as Hastert allegedly did, is a federal felony.
He was charged with "structuring" and lying to the FBI
Structuring is the count of the indictment to which Hastert pleaded guilty. The other count, which the plea deal apparently dropped, was lying to the FBI about it.
When the FBI asked if the point of the withdrawals was "to store cash because he did not feel safe with the banking system, as he previously indicated," Hastert allegedly replied, ""Yeah … I kept the cash. That’s what I’m doing." Since Hastert — again, according to the indictment — actually used the money to pay off Individual A, that meant he made "materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements" to the FBI.
About a month before the indictment, Hastert requested that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan withdraw a proposal to spend $500,000 on a statue of Hastert for the state Capitol, citing the state's fiscal conditions.
Hastert's sentencing is currently set for February 29. He faces probation or up to six months in prison.