Hastert payments aimed at concealing past sexual allegation
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert paid an unnamed person to keep quiet about alleged sexual misconduct from his days as a teacher and wrestling coach in Illinois, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation.
The payments to the individual, who's now an adult, were made to protect Hastert's reputation, which would have been harmed if the allegations surfaced, said the official, who described the case on condition of anonymity because the prosecution is still under way.
The official wouldn't say whether the person was one of Hastert's students or wrestlers, or was a juvenile at the time of the alleged misconduct. Hastert, 73, was indicted Thursday on federal charges of evading currency-reporting requirements and lying to the FBI as part of an alleged hush-money scheme.
The indictment has cast a pall on the legacy of Hastert, a Republican from Plano, Illinois, who served in the House from 1987 to 2007 and became the chamber's speaker — second in line of succession to the president. He resigned this week from the Washington lobbying firm where he has worked since 2008, and quit his posts on the boards of CME Group Inc. and a Wheaton College policy center that bears his name.
Kimberly Nerheim, a spokeswoman for Chicago U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon, said Hastert's attorney information wasn't yet available. A home telephone listing for Hastert couldn't be immediately located. Dickstein Shapiro LLP lawyer Justin Chiarodo, who's representing Hastert in a civil lawsuit pending at the same courthouse where he was charged, didn't immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
The Los Angeles Times reported the sexual misconduct allegations earlier Friday.
Hastert as speaker in 2006 was among those chided by the House Ethics Committee for not "exercising appropriate diligence" in dealing swiftly with accusations about then- Representative Mark Foley's sexually explicit instant messages and e-mails to male congressional pages. Hastert's indictment may rekindle attention to that episode.
Prosecutors said Thursday that Hastert withdrew $952,000 in small increments to avoid a requirement that banks report cash transactions exceeding $10,000. The withdrawals were part of a plan to give an individual who wasn't named $3.5 million as a payoff to conceal "prior misconduct," Fardon said in a statement.
Starting in July 2012, Hastert began structuring withdrawals in increments of less than $10,000 to evade currency transaction reports, prosecutors said. Later, when questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, he told agents he was keeping the cash, they said.
Since 2008, Hastert had been a senior adviser at Dickstein Shapiro in Washington, where he's a registered lobbyist. He has resigned, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified.
From 1965 to 1981, Hastert was a high school teacher and coach in Yorkville, Illinois, where a person identified in a grand jury indictment as "Individual A" also lived. That person has known Hastert most of his or her life, according to the indictment.
In 2010, Individual A met with Hastert several times and, in at least one of those meetings, discussed the alleged "past misconduct" that had occurred years earlier. Hastert agreed to pay that person $3.5 million "to compensate for and conceal" the misconduct, according to the indictment.
From 2010 to 2014, Hastert withdrew about $1.7 million from various bank accounts, prosecutors said. During the first two years, he took $50,000 from accounts at three separate banks, paying money to the person about every six weeks, according to the indictment.
After being questioned by bank representatives about the withdrawals, Hastert started making them in increments of less than $10,000, turning over the money in $50,000 bundles "at pre-arranged meeting places and times," according to the indictment.
Last year, Hastert and Individual A changed their payment pattern to $100,000 every three months. Hastert continued making the sub-$10,000 withdrawals.
By that time, the FBI had started an investigation. Hastert is accused of lying about the transactions when questioned by the federal authorities in December.
"Yeah … I kept the cash. That's what I'm doing," he said, according to the indictment.
On Friday, Wheaton College said that it had accepted his resignation from the Board of Advisors of its J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy.
"The College respects Mr. Hastert's distinguished public service record and the due process being afforded him pursuant to the charges that have been filed against him," the Illinois school said in a statement.
Kerin Harris, 79, who said she's friends with Hastert, said she's been following high school wrestling at Yorkville High for more than 40 years. She has eight children who she said were taught by Hastert, including one son who was on Hastert's wrestling team. She said she baked the cake for the wedding of Hastert's son.
Hastert was "never anything but a 100 percent wonderful man," Harris said at a beauty shop in Yorkville.
"I was stunned, that would be putting it mildly," said Harris, who still keeps score at wrestling matches. "I've been sick all day."
With assistance from Elizabeth Campbell in Chicago and Mike Dorning in Washington.