15 months' jail for former US House speaker who molested boys

Hastert leaving court after his sentencing on Wednesday. Besides getting jail time, he was ordered to pay a US$250,000 fine. He cannot be tried for the sexual crimes as the cases dated too far back.
Hastert leaving court after his sentencing on Wednesday. Besides getting jail time, he was ordered to pay a US$250,000 fine. He cannot be tried for the sexual crimes as the cases dated too far back.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He pleads guilty to paying hush money to one victim he abused when he was a school coach

WASHINGTON • Former US House speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison for paying hush money related to the sexual abuse of a teen boy he coached in high school.

Shortly before the sentence was handed down, the 74-year-old admitted for the first time he sexually abused boys when he taught wrestling at Yorkville High School in Illinois from the 1960s to the early 1980s.

US District Judge Thomas Durkin was reported as telling Hastert on Wednesday: "Nothing is more stunning than having the words serial child molester and speaker of the House in the same sentence."

Prosecutors have provided details of abuse of at least five boys as young as 14 in cases dating back decades for which the Republican politician can no longer be tried.

"What I did was wrong and I regret it," Hastert, who attended the court hearing in Chicago in a wheelchair, said as he admitted the abuse under sustained questioning.

"They looked to me and I took advantage of them," he added, according to comments reported by the Chicago Tribune.

Judge Durkin also ordered Hastert to pay a US$250,000 (S$336,000) fine to a crime victims' fund and set two years of supervised release on condition he participate in a treatment programme for sex offenders.

Lawyers for Hastert, who suffered a stroke last year, had pointed to his ill health to ask for probation.

He "takes sole responsibility for this tragic situation and deeply apologises to all those affected by his actions", they said in a statement.

The longest-serving Republican House speaker in US history, Hastert occupied the role from 1999 to 2007, putting him second in the line of succession to the US presidency.

He pushed a series of anti-gay ballot initiatives, including moving a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Last year, Hastert pleaded guilty to illegally structuring bank withdrawals to avoid reporting where he was sending funds as part of a US$3.5 million settlement over the abuse, said to have been committed three decades ago.

Statutes of limitations have long passed on the sexual crimes, so he was charged only with breaking financial laws.

Federal prosecutors say Hastert paid a victim a total of US$1.7 million - a little less than half the agreed amount - between 2010 and 2014 in regular payments that only stopped when the government started investigating him.

The victim who received those payments, identified as "Individual A" in last year's federal indictment against Hastert, filed a lawsuit on Monday seeking the US$1.8 million still missing under their agreement.

That lawsuit claims that Hastert "violated the special trust" the victim placed in him by "sexually molesting and abusing plaintiff in a motel room" on a wrestling team trip.

At Hastert's sentencing hearing, another victim took the stand and revealed his identity - as the brother of a long-time political ally of Hastert.

Mr Scott Cross said Hastert violated him when the two were alone in a wrestling room.

Hastert "told me he could help me lose weight by giving me a massage", Mr Cross was quoted as saying in his testimony.

"I trusted what he was saying and took him at his word." When the abuse started, "I was stunned by what he was doing," said Mr Cross, whose elder brother, Mr Tom Cross, was a long-time Illinois Republican House leader.

Hastert resigned from Congress after allegedly turning a blind eye to a scandal involving another former lawmaker - Mark Foley - who sent sexually explicit or suggestive messages to teenage pages.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline '15 months' jail for former US House speaker who molested boys'. Print Edition | Subscribe