Disgraced former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert for the first time admitted committing “transgressions” as a high school wrestling coach in the 1970s. Through a lawyer Saturday, Hastert publicly acknowledged wrongdoing in connection with a string of sexual abuse allegations against him.
Federal prosecutors this week said Hastert molested at least five boys involved with the wrestling team at Yorkville High School in suburban Chicago. In a court filing Friday, prosecutors detailed how the former politician offered massages in a locker room and inappropriately touched some boys. Another man alleged he was sexually abused in a motel room during a wrestling trip.
“Hastert acknowledges that as a young man he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry,” his attorney Thomas Green said Saturday in a statement, according to media reports. “He earnestly apologizes to his former students, family, friends, previous constituents and all others affected by the harm his actions have caused.”
Former US Speaker 'covered up abuse' https://t.co/gtqVpQngpG
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) April 9, 2016
Hastert, who pleaded guilty in October to breaking banking laws in connection with the sex abuse scandal, is scheduled to be sentenced April 27. Prosecutors released details of their investigation this week in advance of the hearing. Hastert faces up to six months in prison for his financial crime. But the statute of limitations has run out on the sexual assault allegations.
Hastert, 74, served as a Republican in the House of Representatives for two decades following his first election in 1986. He rose to House Speaker in 1999, replacing Newt Gingrich and serving until Democrats captured the House in 2006. A year later, he quit to become a high-profile lobbyist.
Suspicious Bank Withdrawals
His stature as a well-known figure in Washington helped draw the scrutiny of federal agents after a bank compliance officer noticed strange activity in Hastert’s accounts. Investigators wondered whether a string of suspicious bank withdrawals meant Hastert was being extorted, or whether he was making illegal payments related to his work as a lobbyist.
“The answer, as it turned out, after a lengthy investigation, was neither of these things,” prosecutors said in the court filing, which said Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to a man he allegedly sexually abused when the victim was 14.
A Chicago Tribune report Saturday described the investigation in detail, citing the court filing.
In April 2012, the bank officer was completing a routine exam not connected to Hastert when he noticed the unusual transactions. Hastert had made seven $50,000 withdrawals dating back to 2010 from his Yorkville bank account. A risk management officer spoke to Hastert about the withdrawals, but Hastert replied the transactions were “none of his business."
Hastert stopped withdrawing money from that account for a few months after the conversation. But when he started taking out cash again in July, the withdrawals were only in $9,000 increments — below the $10,000 threshold at which banks must report transactions to regulators.
The FBI and IRS eventually learned of suspicious activity from not only the Yorkville account but also two other bank accounts held in Hastert’s name. By late 2014, the withdrawals from the three accounts totaled $1.7 million.
On Dec. 8, 2014, FBI agents confronted Hastert at his home in Plano, Illinois. He told them he was not in any trouble but was storing his cash “in a safe place” because he didn’t trust the banks to keep it safe. The agents were skeptical, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Soon after that interview, Hastert’s lawyers contacted the government, claiming the lobbyist was being extorted by a former Yorkville High School student and wrestler, a man who was labeled "Individual A." Hastert said the man threatened to go public with a false allegation that Hastert inappropriately touched him during a wrestling trip decades ago. Individual A was demanding $3.5 million in hush money.
Hastert agreed to record conversations with that man as part of an FBI investigation. Federal agents directed Hastert to say he needed more time to get the next $100,000 payment. Individual A agreed to the delay. On a second call, agents instructed Hastert to “push back” against the man and say he was tired of the false accusations and wanted the payments to stop.
But Hastert didn’t take that approach. He said only that he needed more time to send the cash. Soon, Hastert’s story began to unravel. Agents and federal prosecutors noted that on both calls, Individual A sounded sympathetic — not like a money-hungry extortionist — and he didn't threaten to go public.
Eventually, agents confronted Individual A. The man told them that when he was a wrestler for Hastert’s high school team in the 1970s, the coach invited him to attend a wrestling camp with other boys. The trip included a two-night stay in a motel. Hastert, who was the only adult on the trip, told Individual A he would stay in the coach’s room; the other boys would sleep in another room.
Later that night, Hastert said he wanted to “check on” a groin pull the young wrestler had complained about earlier in the day. According to Individual A’s account, Hastert had him lie on the bed and remove his underwear. The coach then massaged the student’s groin in a clearly inappropriate way, the Chicago Tribune report said, citing the court filing.
Andy Richter Remembers
Prosecutors said Hastert would also sit and watch as boys showered in the high school locker room. The disclosure jogged the memory of comedian Andy Richter, who said he attended Yorkville High School from 1980 to 1984.
Richter, known for his role as sidekick for late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien, recalled the “La-Z-Boy-type” chair where Hastert allegedly sat during shower time. “I remember this chair. Purportedly ‘to keep boys from fighting,’” Richter wrote on Twitter late Friday. He said he had not thought about the chair in three decades, and that no one apparently questioned it at the time.
— Chicago Tribune (@chicagotribune) April 9, 2016
Individual A said he first decided to confront Hastert about the decades-old motel room incident in 2010. He met with Hastert and asked why the former speaker had done it. “After a long pause, [Hastert] said that it was a confusing and difficult time in his life,” the filing said.
When Hastert met with Individual A weeks later, the man said he wanted $3.5 million for what Hastert had done to him. Hastert did not try to negotiate the payment total.
In those early conversations with Individual A, Hastert claimed he had abused only one other person. But prosecutors later alleged that Hastert abused five young men, one of whom died in 1995.
All men were affiliated with the wrestling team. The allegations stretch over a decade and begin within years of Hastert’s start as a 23-year-old teacher at the high school in 1965. The Chicago Tribune said it had determined the identity of three of the five men.