After massive amounts of hush money spent and years of hiding his crimes, Dennis Hastert finally faces justice. But was the punishment enough?
Dennis Hastert, the Republican who for eight years presided over the House and was second in the line of succession to the presidency, was sentenced Wednesday to more than a year in prison in the hush-money case that revealed accusations he sexually abused teenagers while coaching high school wrestling.
The case makes the former speaker one of the highest-ranking American politicians ever sentenced to prison. The visibly angry judge repeatedly rebuked the 74-year-old before issuing the 15-month sentence, telling him that his abuse devastated the lives of victims and would probably make it harder than ever for parents to trust other adults with their children.
“If Denny Hastert could do it, anyone could do it,'” U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin said. “Nothing is more stunning than to have the words ‘serial child molester’ and ‘speaker of the House’ in the same sentence.”
As he did for much of the hearing, Hastert sat unmoving in a wheelchair, peering over the top of his eyeglasses, his hands folded before him.
Earlier this month, prosecutors went into graphic detail about the sex-abuse allegations, even describing how Hastert would sit in a recliner in the locker room with a direct view of the showers. The victims, prosecutors said, were boys between 14 and 17. Hastert was in his 20s and 30s.
When the judge asked if Hastert wanted to make a statement, Hastert pushed himself up, grabbed a walker and moved slowly to a podium.
“I am deeply ashamed to be standing here,” he said, reading from a statement. “I know why I am here … I mistreated some of the athletes that I coached.”
He added: “They looked up to me, and I took advantage of them.”
Hastert pleaded guilty last fall to violating banking law as he sought to pay $3.5 million to someone referred to in court papers only as Individual A to keep the sex abuse secret.
The judge devoted many of his remarks to describing how Hastert lied to FBI agents when they first approached him about the massive cash withdrawals. Hastert told investigators that Individual A was making a bogus claim of sex abuse to extort him for money.
“Accusing Individual A of extortion was unconscionable,” Durkin said. “He was a victim (of abuse) decades ago and you tried to make him a victim again.”
Prosecutors have described the payments as something akin to an out-of-court settlement. Individual A wanted to bring in lawyers and put the agreement in writing, but it was Hastert, authorities said, who refused to involve anyone else.