Federal prosecutors in Chicago have filed a 26-page document in which they detail for the first time the manner in which former House Speaker Dennis Hastert sexually abused teen boys while he was a high school wrestling coach in Yorkville, Illinois. Despite the gravity of the allegations against Hastert and his repeated lying to federal agents when first questioned about the reason for structured cash withdrawals from various banks near his home in Plano, Illinois to maintain one of his victim's silence, federal prosecutors are seeking the lowest possible sentence for his crime--from no time in jail to just six months.
The court filing also details how bank examiners first grew concerned Hastert was either engaged in illegal activity or was the victim of extortion after he first withdrew $50,000 in cash and then later began withdrawing cash in smaller sums to avoid the automatic reporting requirement triggered by cash withdrawals of $10,000 or more. Hastert ultimately withdrew $1.7 million over a several year period before FBI agents confronted him.
According to today's filing, Hastert had first claimed he was withdrawing cash to purchase collector automobiles when questioned by bank employees. At other times he suggested he was withdrawing money to buy stocks or make other investments. Irritated at times, he said it was none of their business why he was withdrawing the money. Hastert bristled at the suggestion his actions invoked the Patriot Act as explained to him by one bank official, which he insisted applied only to terrorists and he wasn't one. The first bank where he began withdrawing money grew so concerned about his cash withdrawals that it notified Hastert it was closing his account before he voluntarily closed it and withdrew his money.
As we now know, the cash withdrawals were used to make payments to a former high school student whom Hastert had sexually abused when he was a member of his wrestling team in the 1970s. That man, identified in court documents as Individual A, had set up a meeting with Hastert in his Plano office in 2010, which he scheduled for the purpose of asking him why he had sexually abused him. Hastert told the man it was a "confusing and difficult time" in his life. He told him there was only one other victim besides himself. Individual A told Hastert he wanted monetary compensation for his suffering over the years. Hastert agreed to pay the victim $3.5 million.
Initially, Hastert withdrew $50,000 in cash on seven different occasions before he realized doing so had drawn too much attention from bank employees. He made the first payment to the victim in his office but later made arrangements to meet the victim in a store's parking lot to make the cash payments. Initially, Hastert had planned to transfer stock he had obtained in a private placement offering for a company that would soon be going public, but that idea got nixed when the company's first public offering got delayed. Growing concern among bank officials about his cash withdrawals would not lead FBI agents to confront Hastert until late in 2014.
When FBI agents first met with Hastert to discuss the cash withdrawals, they had pretty much determined he wasn't using the money for corrupt, public influence purposes. Hastert lied about the purpose of the withdrawals, insisting that he had stopped withdrawing $50,000 at a time and, instead, withdrawing the sums in smaller denominations because he was tired of being hassled and questioned by bank employees about the withdrawals. He insisted he was withdrawing the money because he didn't think the banks were safe and he was keeping the money in a safe place. He denied that he was withdrawing the money because he was in some kind of trouble.
After Hastert's first meeting with FBI agents in December, 2014, his attorney soon contacted the FBI and claimed Hastert was the victim of an extortion plot and was willing to cooperate in an investigation. During a February 27, 2015 proffer meeting, Hastert said he was being extorted by a man who claimed he had been sexually abused by him as a member of Hastert's high school wrestling team in Yorkville. Hastert claimed the sexual abuse claim was false, but he nonetheless agreed to make a $3.5 million payment to him to keep him silent. Hastert then agreed to wear a wire and record subsequent meetings with Individual A.
During two different meetings with the victim, Hastert told Individual A he was having trouble coming up with the money because banks were closing his accounts and asking too many questions about the payments. FBI agents were struck by the tone of Individual A's conversations with Hastert. He was very understanding and not the least bit threatening towards Hastert about making the payments as agreed. They found his behavior inconsistent with an extortionist.
During a second recorded session, Hastert ignored instructions by FBI agents to push back against Individual A and refuse to make any further payments and insist the allegations he had made against him were false. Once again, Individual A was very calm and understanding about delays in being paid. He was willing to allow the payments to be spread over a longer period of time. He referenced their earlier promise and his own earlier suggestion that they keep their stories straight and have a formal agreement drawn up by attorneys, a suggestion Hastert had rejected.
FBI agents then met with Individual A to discuss the payments without telling him his earlier conversations with Hastert had been recorded by them. Individual A explained to the agents how he and more than a dozen other boys had gone on a wrestling camp trip together with Hastert when the victim was 14. Hastert had singled out Individual A alone to share a room with him. Before they went to bed, Hastert had insisted on giving him a massage on the bed to treat a groin injury the boy had complained of having. The boy soon realized Hastert's intention were of a sexual nature and not therapeutic after he began touching him in an inappropriate manner after removing his underwear. He initially jumped up from the bed, put on his underwear and ran to a chair. Confused over his reaction, he apologized to Hastert, who insisted he come back to the bed and give him a massage while he laid faced down. The two then slept in the same bed together.
FBI agents would soon learn of other victims. Victim B told FBI agents that when he was 14 Hastert had asked him to let him give him a massage to "loosen him up" after he had taken a shower at the school's locker room. Hastert massaged the boy while he laid faced down and then told him to turn over on his back. After he turned over, Hastert leaned down and performed oral sex on him. Individual D told agents about Hastert planting a Lazy-boy chair facing the shower stalls where he would sit and watch the boys as they showered. When he was 17, he said he stayed late after practice one day to cut weight. Hastert told the boy he could lose weight by allowing him to massage him. During the massage, Hastert removed the boy's shorts. When he turned over on his back, Hastert leaned down and performed oral sex on him. Individual C's account followed Hastert's MO. Hastert offered to massage him as a way to cut weight. While in a state of nudity, Hastert found a way to touch his genitals inappropriately.
The fifth victim identified in the court filing was Stephen Reinboldt, the former equipment manager for Hastert's wrestling team who died of AIDS in 1995. Reinboldt's sister, Jolene Burdge, has spoken publicly about her brother's revelations about Hastert sexually abusing him throughout his four years at the high school. Federal prosecutors found a high school friend of Reinboldt who corroborated that Reinboldt had recounted to him the substance of what Reinboldt had told his sister. The court document recounts how Burdge confronted Hastert about the allegations when he attended her brother's funeral.
Federal prosecutors summed up Hastert's history and characteristics accurately, but they raise more questions about why they are seeking the least possible sentence in light of the conclusions they've drawn about a man they believe was a serial, sexual abuser of young boys. While Hastert says he deeply regrets what he did, he never admits the past crimes he committed.
In October 1979, in the midst of high school wrestling season, defendant chose to pursue a public life in politics. Defendant’s sexual abuse of boys on his team occurred before this decision and was still occurring at the time defendant chose to enter public life. Defendant was not just a teacher and coach. Defendant was famous in Yorkville as the beloved coach of the state champion wrestling team; the leader of a boys’ club that took trips to the Grand Canyon and the Bahamas; and the popular teacher who gave kids rides in his Porsche. Defendant was so sure his secrets were safe that he apparently had no fears about entering a profession where one is subject to constant scrutiny and media attention. As Stephen Reinboldt told his sister when she asked him why he never told anyone what defendant did to him during high school, “Who is ever going to believe me?”
Defendant’s legacy of sexual abuse and its real consequences are as much a part of Defendant’s history and characteristics are marred by stunning hypocrisy. When reflecting on his days coaching high school wrestling, defendant wrote, “There’s never sufficient reason to try to strip away another person’s dignity.” Yet that is exactly what defendant did to his victims. He made them feel alone, ashamed, guilty and devoid of dignity. While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them. Some have managed better than others, but all of them carry the scars defendant inflicted upon them. The incidents of sexual abuse occurred at a time in their lives when they stood on the beginning edge of sexual maturity. It is profoundly sad that one of their earliest sexual experiences was in the form of abuse by a man whom they trusted and whom they revered as a mentor and coach.
Defendant’s legacy of sexual abuse and its real consequences are as much a part of defendant’s history and characteristics as those he has presented to the Court in his Sentencing Memorandum. Defendant, in his Sentencing Memorandum, expressed deep regret and remorse for his actions decades ago and the harm he caused to others. But earlier, in his Defendant’s Version, though defendant did not dispute the facts of Individual A’s account, he suggested ambiguity about whether those facts constitute sexual misconduct. Defendant used his position of trust as a teacher and coach to touch a child’s genitals and then undress and ask the child for a back massage in a motel room. There is no ambiguity; defendant sexually abused Individual A.
Further, in his Defendant’s Version, defendant denies sexually abusing Stephen Reinboldt. Prior to his death, Reinboldt told his sister and others close to him, as early as 1973, about defendant’s abuse—well before defendant abused some of the other known victims and years before any of those victims recounted the abuse. Defendant’s denial, in order to be true, means that Reinboldt would have had to lie about himself yet successfully predict what defendant would do in the future to other students. This cannot be. Reinboldt was a victim and defendant was his abuser. Defendant has denied the truth about a victim who no longer can step forward and speak for himself. The Court may properly consider defendant’s unwillingness to accept aspects of his past misconduct when weighing defendant’s personal history and characteristics under Section 3553.And yet still too big to jail.