Dennis Hastert, former U.S. Speaker of the House, was sentenced in federal court on Wednesday to 15 months in federal prison with two years of supervised release in his hush money case. The sentence also requires the man who once was the second in line for the presidency to comply with a treatment program for sexual offenders and pay $250,000.
While Hastert could have faced five years in prison, his defense attorneys made every effort to demonstrate that the former Speaker’s deteriorating health–he suffered a stroke and a blood infection in 2015–made it impossible for him to attend to daily activities without assistance. They recommended probation.
Hastert pleaded guilty in October to violations in banking laws and lying to FBI agents about payments he made to an individual to keep quiet for “misconduct that occurred decades ago.” After Hastert took the plea deal, the federal prosecutor recommended six months of jail time.
Later it came out that at least four men had credible claims that they were sexually abused by Hastert and that the hush money was used to keep one accuser silent.
The statute of limitations on the accusations of sexual misconduct expired decades ago, however it is evident that U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin took the seriousness of these crimes into consideration in Hastert’s sentencing. In court Durkin called Hastert out as a “serial child molester.” While most expected the sentence to range between probation, as the defense called for, and a six-month sentence, the judge used his authority to issue a heavier penalty.
Throughout the judge’s remarks, Hastert sat in his wheelchair without expression, glasses low on his nose. At one point, as Durkin made it clear that probation was not in the cards, Hastert clasped his hands in front of his face and dropped his eyes.
“There are no guarantees that the defendant won’t get sicker in prison,” Durkin said, addressing the defense’s claims about Hastert’s ailing health. “There are no guarantees that he won’t get sicker at home.”
At the sentencing hearing, Hastert for the first time admitted to abusing multiple boys on the wrestling team he coached decades ago.
A man who claims Hastert sexually abused him as he was a Yorkville High School student on the wrestling team Hastert was coaching appeared at the sentencing hearing. The man, who until now was only known as “Individual D,” was identified publicly for the first time as Scott Cross.
Cross is the brother of Tom Cross, a politician who served 22 years in the Illinois House of Representatives. In his testimony Cross said that he had decided to come forward in court after Hastert’s defense team approached his brother asking for a letter of support.
Scott Cross testified that Hastert sexually mistreated him when he was a 17-year-old wrestler. Hastert pestered Cross to allow him to give him massages to help him lose weight. During a massage, Hastert “grabbed my penis and began to rub me,” Cross said. “Stunned, I pulled up my shorts and ran out of the locker room.”
According to Cross, Hastert kept a reclining chair near the boys’ shower where he would watch them undress.
Tom Cross released a statement from the family on Wednesday, saying that, “We are very proud of Scott for having the courage to relive this very painful part of his life in order to ensure that justice is done today.”
“We hope his testimony will provide courage and strength to other victims of other cases of abuse to speak out and advocate for themselves,” Tom Cross said. “With his testimony concluded, we ask now that you respect Scott’s privacy and that of our family.”
“What I did was wrong and I regret it,” Hastert said. “They looked to me and I took advantage of them.”
“I am deeply ashamed to be standing here today,” Hastert told the judge, reading a prepared statement. “I know I am here because I mistreated some of my athletes that I coached. I want to apologize to the boys I mistreated. I was wrong and I accept that.”
When Judge Durkin asked if the “mistreatment” was sexual abuse, Hastert responded, “Yes.”
Another man, known as “Individual A” or “James Doe,” who was at the center of the hush money banking violations filed suit against Hastert in an Illinois state court on Monday, claiming that of the $3.5 million promised to him, he had only received $1.7 million.
Individual A’s breach-of-contract complaint says that Hastert still owes him $1.8 million for his silence on an incident that happened when he was 14-years-old. The individual says that Hastert was a friend of his family’s who molested him in a motel room after inviting him to attend a wrestling camp.
After the sexual assault, Individual A claims to have suffered panic attacks which led to depression, unemployment, hospitalization and years of psychiatric treatment.