Former US House speaker Hastert arrives in court for sentencing over crime related to sex abuse allegations

 Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arriving at the Dirksen Federal Court House in Chicago for his hush-money case sentencing on April 27, 2016.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arriving at the Dirksen Federal Court House in Chicago for his hush-money case sentencing on April 27, 2016. PHOTO: AFP/GETTY IMAGES

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former United States House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrived at a Chicago court on Wednesday (April 27) where he could be sentenced to up to five years in prison for a financial crime related to accusations of sex abuse when he was a high-school wrestling coach decades ago.

Hastert, once one of the most powerful figures in Washington as the longest-serving House speaker from 1999 through 2007, was pushed into the federal courthouse in a wheelchair.

Attorneys for Hastert, 74, who was hospitalised last year for a blood infection and also suffered a stroke, have asked for a probation-only sentence because of his health, remorse and long history of public service.

One of Hastert's accusers, who was a 17-year-old wrestler when he claims Hastert performed a sex act on him after a practice, is expected to testify at the sentencing hearing.

The person, named as Individual D in court documents, will be the first of five accusers identified by federal prosecutors to make a public statement about Hastert. The sister of another accuser, who is now deceased, is also expected to testify.

Prosecutors had asked for a maximum six-month sentence, plus probation, in exchange for Hastert's guilty plea in October to a financial crime known as structuring, which entails withdrawing large sums of money in small increments to evade bank rules about reporting major cash movements. Hastert was paying the money to one of his alleged victims.

US District Court Judge Thomas Durkin has the discretion to impose a sentence of up to five years, the statutory maximum.

Prosecutors have argued that not only has Hastert been accused of abusing teenage wrestlers in his hometown of Yorkville, Illinois, when he was a coach before being elected to Congress but he also lied to federal authorities who asked him in 2014 about the cash withdrawals.

Hastert, who became a lobbyist after leaving Congress, told agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he was being extorted by someone who had falsely accused him of abuse.

The agents listened in on telephone calls Hastert had with that person, identified only as Individual A.

Federal prosecutors have said it became clear Hastert had agreed to pay Individual A US$3.5 million to compensate him for pain and suffering from sexual abuse when he was 14.

That accuser is not expected to testify.

On Monday, using the name James Doe, he sued Hastert for US$1.8 million, saying he had received only US$1.7 million of the promised compensation.

Hastert was not charged with sex abuse because the statute of limitations had run out.