Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months in prison for breaking federal banking rules in a hush-money scheme attempting to cover up decades of sexual abuse.
He was also fined $250,000, Judge Thomas Durkin ruled, saying there's nothing worse than using "serial child molester" and "Speaker of the House" in the same sentence.
"It gives me no pleasure to sentence Mr. Hastert," Durkin said. "It's sad for our country."
Hastert faced up to five years behind bars for the banking charges, which were but one part of the numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against him.
U.S. & World
In court Wednesday, he apologized for his actions and admitted to the sexual abuse for the first time.
"I want to say sorry to those I've hurt," Hastert said in court moments before learning his fate. "What I did was wrong and I regret it. They looked up to me and what I did was wrong."
Among those testifying at Wednesday's hearing was Scott Cross, previously identified as "Individual D," the brother of former State Rep. Tom Cross. Cross claimed Hastert abused him when he was 17 years old and captain of the wrestling team Hastert coached.
"I was alone with Coach Hastert in the locker room. Coach Hastert said I could make weight by giving me a massage. I trusted him," he said. "He pulled down my shorts, grabbed my penis and began to rub me. I was stunned by what he was doing, grabbed my shorts and ran out."
When Cross finished his statement, applause erupted in the courtroom.
Also testifying in court Wednesday was Jolene Burdge, the sister of another of Hastert's victims, Steven Reinboldt.
"I hope I've been your worst nightmare," Burdge said. "What you did wasn't misconduct. It was sexual abuse of a minor."
Hastert admitted in court to sexually abusing Reinboldt. He added that while he does not recall abusing Cross, he "accepts his statement" and does not deny the allegations.
Hastert pleaded guilty last year to a crime known as "structuring," an effort to mask payments to an unnamed individual he had wronged decades ago when he was a wrestling coach at Yorkville High.
Prosecutors have claimed Hastert agreed to pay the accuser more than $3 million to conceal allegations Hastert molested him in a motel room when he was 14 years old. That accuser has since filed suit against Hastert for breach of contract, claiming he failed to finish making the agreed upon payments.
Authorities allege Hastert tried to mislead the FBI by instead accusing the victim of extortion.
"He was a victim decades ago and you tried to make him the victim again," Durkin said, adding that if Hastert had told the truth "he probably would have gotten probation."
In total, at least four former students have come forward alleging the now 74-year-old molested them when he was a teacher and coach.
Attorneys for Hastert pleaded for mercy, saying Hastert has been punished enough through failing health and his own guilt and humiliation. Soon after his guilty pleas last October, the former speaker was hospitalized with a series of medical problems, including sepsis and a small stroke.
His attorneys asked that Hastert be spared time behind bars, and instead receive probation.
"This is one of the most tragic and sad cases I've ever encountered," said attorney Thomas Green. "His life will forever be comprised and diminished."
Still, Durkin said Hastert's age would not deter him from sentencing the 74-year-old to prison and said his medical needs can be met in prison.
"I hope I never see a case like this again," Durkin said.
Hastert's attorney said in a statement that Hastert "accepts the sentence imposed by the court today."
"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," the statement read. "He hopes that he now can focus on addressing his health issues and on healing the emotional damage that has been inflicted on his family and friends who have shown unwavering support throughout this trying time."