A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced former U.S. House speaker Dennis Hastert to at least 15 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges of organizing his bank accounts in order keep secret a history of sexual abuse claims from former high school wrestlers he once coached.
Hastert also was fined $250,000, ordered to take part in sex offender programs, and barred from contacting victims. He will also serve two years of supervised release after he completes his prison sentence, which was more than the prosecution had sought.
In the sentencing, Federal District Court Judge Thomas Durkin called Hastert a "serial child molester," and added that the public deserved to know about his history of abuse.
“Nothing is more stunning than having the words 'child molester' and 'former Speaker of the House' in the same sentence,” Durkin said.
Hastert was indicted in May on charges of “structuring financial payments,” or illegally transferring funds, to conceal the fact that he had paid off an individual for unspecified “prior bad acts” said to have been committed decades ago. The acts were later revealed to be sexual abuse.
Hastert pleaded guilty to the financial charges in October, and said that he had agreed to pay $3.5 million to a former wrestler, known in the case as John Doe or Individual A, in hush money.
But on Monday, the same wrestler sued Hastert for neglecting to pay him a remaining $1.8 million from their original agreement.
Judge Durkin noted Hastert played a role in passing the bank structuring rule he later violated in order to cover up his sexual abuse charges by paying off a victim.
Over the past several years, Hastert withdrew $1.7 million in cash, which included $956,000 in transactions less than $10,000.
Durkin asked Hastert to explain his financial maneuvers, given his stance that he did not abuse the victims.
“If in your own mind you didn’t abuse anybody, why pay Individual A $3.5 million?” he asked Hastert.
Durkin repeatedly referred to Hastert as a liar and a child molester throughout his sentencing remarks.
Durkin asked Hastert if he abused one of the alleged victims, Steven Reinboldt. Hastert told the judge it was a different situation, but did not elaborate.
The judge read letters of support for Hastert, acknowledging both the positive effects brought on by his public service and the weight of his current charges.
“Sometimes actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works,” he said.
Durkin rejected the defense's suggestion of probation, and added that the prison to which Hastert, who suffered a stroke in December, would be sentenced would meet his health needs.
"He’s not an infirm, helpless, handicapped senior citizen who is unaware of what’s going on," the judge said.
In his last words before adjourning the court, Durkin said, "This is a horrible case, horrible for our country. I hope I never have to see a case like this again."
"Mr. Hastert accepts the sentence imposed by the court today," said Hastert's attorney, Thomas Green, in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News.
"As he made clear in his own words in addressing the court, he takes sole responsibility for this tragic situation and deeply apologizes to all those affected by his actions."
Before the sentence was issued, the court heard testimonies from both former victims and their families.
The first testimony came from Jolene Burdge, Reinboldt's sister. Before he died of AIDS in 1995 at age 42, Reinboldt told Burdge that Hastert had abused him, she said.
Burdge began by reading a letter her brother wrote five months before he died. She said her brother died alone, and that he had been keeping a secret.
She added that she confronted Hastert shortly after her brother died in 1995.
After reading the letter, Burdge told Hastert, “I know your secret. I hope I have been your worst nightmare.”
Burdge asserted that she would continue to represent her brother’s story because he was no longer able to.
“You think you can deny your abuse of Steve because he cannot speak for himself,” she said to Hastert, according to reporters in court, adding that her brother experienced trauma for the rest of his life following the abuse. “That is why I am here.”
“You were supposed to keep him safe,” she told him.
The next individual to speak was Scott Cross, 53, a former wrestler abused by Hastert during his senior year of high school. Cross is also the brother of Tom Cross, who was mentored by Hastert and is currently a House Republican Leader. Hastert even once called Tom Cross to seek his political support.
Scott Cross referred to Hastert as “Coach Hastert” during his remarks, adding that he grew up wanting to wrestle for his team at Yorkville High School.
"Staying silent for years was worse. It is important to tell the truth...about what happened to me," he told the court. "I could no longer remain silent."
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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