Thursday’s indictment of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was in connection with an alleged scheme to cover up a sexual relationship that Hastert had with a male student at Yorkville High School in Illinois, according to a federal law enforcement official, NBC News reports.
The seven-page federal indictment notes in its first paragraph that Hastert was a high school teacher and coach in Yorkville from 1965 to 1981, before going on to serve as an elected official and to work as a lobbyist. All of these phases of Hastert’s career are said to be “material to this indictment,” according to the Justice Department.
The document also notes in its next paragraph that Individual A has been a Yorkville resident, and has known Hastert “most of Individual A’s life.”
And it says that Hastert and Individual A met in 2010 multiple times, and discussed misconduct by Hastert against Individual A “that had occurred years earlier.” Hastert agreed to pay Individual A $3.5 million to “compensate for and conceal” the misconduct, according to the indictment.
Hastert was allowed to remain free of his own recognizance, according to a court document Friday. His bail was set at $4,500 and no court date has been set yet.
Hastert taught government and history at Yorkville High School, and he was the school’s wrestling coach. He led the team to the state title in 1976, and later was named Illinois Coach of the Year.
As a member of the Illinois state legislature in the 1980s, Hastert spearheaded legislation on child abuse prevention, among other issues, according to several publicly available bios.
Prosecutors allege that the payments began in 2010 in increments of $50,000. But they say that, starting in 2012, Hastert deliberately structured the payments in smaller increments of $10,000 to avoid triggering bank reports to the IRS that are required for cash withdrawals over that amount.
They also accuse Hastert of lying to the FBI when he told them last year that the withdrawals were for his own use, because he’d lost faith in the U.S. banking system.
Since leaving Congress, Hastert has worked as a senior adviser to the Washington lobbying firm Dickstein Shapiro. He has now resigned, the firm confirmed late Thursday.
Hastert was asked by Politico last week about rumors that he was having trouble with the IRS. “I read what you heard, but that’s not correct,” Hastert said then. “I’m not going to talk to you.”
Told by a Politico reporter in a phone interview that he was about to be indicted, Hastert said: “Well, it’s not true.”
In a brief phone interview, Phyllis Oldenburg, a well-connected Republican operative in Kendall County who played a role in launching Hastert’s political career, described herself as “shocked” and “overwhelmed” at the news of Hastert’s indictment, before quickly ending the call.
Last November, Hastert appeared on C-Span to discuss the upcoming midterm election, when a call came in from “Bruce from Illinois.”
“Hello, Denny,” the caller said.
“Hey, how are you doing?” Hastert replied.
“Pretty good,” the caller said. “Remember me from Yorkville?”
The caller then laughed and hung up.
There’s no evidence that the incident, which was unearthed Friday by The Hill newspaper, has any connection to the indictment.
Hastert served as House speaker from 1999 to 2007, the longest tenure in the post ever for a Republican. He was a loyal supporter of Bush’s agenda, helping move regressive tax cuts and a Medicare prescription drug plan, among other items, through Congress.
Hastert took over as speaker just as the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, for allegedly lying under oath about sex with a White House intern, was set to get underway. He ascended to the post after Bob Livingston, the first choice to replace the outgoing Newt Gingrich, was forced out of the running amid allegations of several extra-marital affairs.
One low point of his tenure came shortly before the 2006 midterms, after the emergence of lewd emails sent by a member of the Republican caucus, Tom Foley, to a teenage boy. Hastert’s office was accused of knowing about the messages well before they became public. Yet Foley continued to serve as chair of a congressional caucus on missing and exploited children, right up until his eventual resignation.
Republicans lost control of Congress that fall. Hastert left Congress the following year.
UPDATE: From LA TIMES “It Was Sex”
Indicted former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was paying an individual from his past to conceal sexual misconduct, two federal law enforcement officials said Friday.
One of the officials, who would not speak publicly about the federal charges in Chicago, said “Individual A,” as the person is described in Thursday’s federal indictment, was a man and that the alleged misconduct was unrelated to Hastert’s tenure in Congress. The actions date to Hastert’s time as a Yorkville, Ill., high school wrestling coach and teacher, the official said.
“It goes back a long way, back to then,” the source said. “It has nothing to do with public corruption or a corruption scandal. Or to his time in office.” Thursday’s indictment described the misconduct “against Individual A” as having “occurred years earlier.”
Asked why Hastert was making the payments, the official said it was to conceal Hastert’s past relationship with the male. “It was sex,’’ the source said. The other official confirmed that the misconduct involved sexual abuse.
Hastert has not responded to requests for comment. Representatives of his lobbying firm declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors alleged that Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million in apparent hush money to the individual, then lied to the FBI when asked about suspicious cash withdrawals from several banks.
The stunning indictment of the longtime Republican powerhouse alleged he gave about $1.7 million in cash beginning in 2010 to the acquaintance.
Hastert, 73, of Plano, was charged with one count each of structuring currency transactions to evade currency transaction reports and making a false statement to the FBI, counts that each carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. He will be arraigned later at U.S. District Court in downtown Chicago.
Hastert was House speaker for eight years and has been working as a consultant and Washington lobbyist since stepping down from office in 2007.
According to the seven-page indictment, Individual A met multiple times in 2010 with Hastert but brought up the allegations of past misconduct during at least one of the meetings. During that discussion and later meetings, Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to Individual A to conceal the wrongdoing, the indictment alleged.
From June 2010 to April 2012, Hastert made 15 withdrawals of $50,000 each from bank accounts he controlled and paid Individual A that cash about every six weeks, according to the charges.
After bank representatives questioned Hastert about the withdrawals in 2012, he began illegally structuring the cash withdrawals in increments less than $10,000 to evade bank reporting requirements, the indictment said.
The FBI began investigating the cash withdrawals in 2013. According to the indictment, agents were interested in whether Hastert was using the cash “for a criminal purpose” but were also investigating the possibility that Hastert “was the victim of a criminal extortion related to, among other matters, his prior positions in government.”
When questioned by the FBI about the withdrawals last December, Hastert, who as speaker was once second in line to take over the Oval Office if the president was incapacitated, said he was trying to store cash because he didn’t feel safe with the banking system, according to the charges.
“Yeah … I kept the cash. That’s what I’m doing,” Hastert was quoted as saying to the agents.
The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.
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