Federal prosecutors confirmed for the first time Friday, allegations that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert paid hush money to cover up the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old student decades ago. And they alleged numerous other sexual encounters, involving young men who had once wrestled on teams Hastert coached in the seventies.
“These known acts consist of the defendant’s intentional touching of minors’ groin area and genitals or oral sex with a minor,” they wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Friday evening. “The actions at the core of this case took place not on the defendant’s national stage, but in his private one-on-one encounters in an empty locker room and a motel room with minors, that violated the special trust between those young boys and their coach.”
Prosecutors said Hastert had aroused the suspicion of his banks with large cash withdrawals in early 2012. When confronted by bank officials, Hastert gave conflicting reasons, including a contention that he collected vintage cars and needed the cash for purchases. But after bank officials informed Hastert that they were going to close his accounts due to the unusual withdrawals, the matter eventually came to the attention of the FBI.
“Law enforcement was concerned that defendant’s large and unusual cash withdrawals could be indicative of other criminal activity of which (Hastert) was either a perpetrator or the victim,” they wrote. “By December 2014…defendant had withdrawn a total of $1.7 million in cash in approximately four and a half years.”
When they approached him that month, FBI agents said Hastert told them he was withdrawing the money because he “did not think the banks were safe.” But shortly after that, defense lawyers contacted the government and said the former Speaker had been the victim of an extortion plot, involving a false claim made by a former student identified as Individual A.
Hastert agreed to record conversations with Individual A. But during the course of those conversations, the FBI said the stories did not seem to add up, and that Individual A did not speak as a person who was extorting the former Speaker at all.
In March of 2015, agents confronted Individual A directly, and he quickly described an incident where he said it was he who had been a victim.
The incident in question occurred on a school wrestling trip, where Hastert, then the Yorkville coach, allegedly insisted that the boy stay in his hotel room.
“Defendant told Individual A to lie down on the bed and take off his underwear,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant than began massaging Individual A’s groin area. It became clear to Individual A that defendant was not touching him in a therapeutic manner to address a wrestling injury, but was touching him in a sexually inappropriate way.”
The boy, now a young man, told agents that he slept in the same bed with Hastert that night, but that he refused to stay in his room the following evening.
He admitted, agents said, that when he approached Hastert in 2010, he demanded $3.5 million “for what defendant had done to him.” The first payment was made at Hastert’s Yorkville office, he said, with other $50,000 payments occurring every few months in the parking lot of a Yorkville store. Later, they changed that arrangement to payments of $100,000 every three months.
The government filing speaks of other young men who were allegedly abused by Hastert. One, identified as Individual B, said Hastert performed a sex act on him in a locker room at Yorkville High School when he was just 14 years old. Another, identified as Individual D, said Hastert put a “Lazyboy”-type chair in direct view of the shower stalls where he sat while the boys showered. The boy said Hastert performed a sex act on him, when he was 17.
Another, identified as Individual C, says Hastert brushed his genitals during a massage.
The document also quotes a woman named Jolene Burdge, who says her late brother, Stephen Reinboldt, told her that Hastert had sexually abused him throughout his high school years from 1967 to 1971.
“Burdge asked her brother why he never told anyone about the abuse during high school,” prosecutors wrote. “Reinboldt said that he had no one to turn to, and did not think anyone would believe him.”
The government noted that Hastert made a decision to run for public office in October of 1979, and that his sexual abuse of boys on his team was still occurring at the time he made the decision to enter public life.
“Defendant spent years violating banking laws of which he was fully aware in order to keep secret his sexual abuse of wrestling team members,” the filing states. “Defendant’s history and characteristics are marred by stunning hypocrisy.”
Prosecutors agreed with the defense, that the guideline range for Hastert’s financial offenses called for a sentence of between zero and six months. But they urged the judge to take into account the gravity of his crimes, and to send a message that a wealthy and powerful person who held high office is subject to the same penalties as an ordinary citizen.
“He made (the victims) feel alone, ashamed, guilty, and devoid of dignity,” they wrote. “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.”