Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison on Wednesday by a judge who described him as a "serial child molester." Federal judge Thomas Durkin said there's "nothing ambiguous about this. ... This is sexual abuse." Hastert had pleaded guilty to paying hush money to cover up the accusations.
Hastert must undergo sex offender treatment and two years of supervised release after his prison time. He was also hit with a $250,000 fine to go to a crime victims fund. When Durkin read the sentence, Hastert didn't move in his wheelchair, hands folded on his lap, shoulders hunched and his face drawn.
The nation's longest-serving GOP speaker, Hastert was once second in the line of succession to the presidency after the vice president. He becomes one of the highest-ranking politicians in U.S. history ever to be put in prison. Hastert was accused of sexually abusing students decades ago, when he coached wrestling at an Illinois high school.
During the sentencing hearing, a man who says Hastert had sexually abused him when he was a high school wrestler came forward and identified himself as Scott Cross, brother of Illinois GOP staple Tom Cross.
"I trusted Coach Hastert," Scott Cross said in a Chicago courtroom on Wednesday morning. "It's important for me to tell the truth finally about what happened to me. I could no longer remain silent," he said.
Hastert pleaded guilty last year to breaking banking laws as he sought to pay $3.5 million to someone identified in court papers only as Individual A to conceal a dark secret from his past. (The victim is now suing Hastert to get his final payment!)
The disgraced politician said Wednesday he was "deeply ashamed to be standing before you" and admitted that he "mistreated" some of the athletes he coached.
"I am sorry to those I hurt and misled," he said. "What I did was wrong and I regret it." Adding insult to injury, Hastert claims he does not remember abusing Scott Cross. A teary Scott Cross said Hastert abused him while they were alone in a locker room. In the years since he has sought professional help and has had trouble sleeping.
Hastert had been a mentor of sorts to Tom Cross, the Chicago Tribune reported. The ex-Speaker had asked Tom Cross to write a letter of support, but Cross ignored it, already having knowledge of his brother's allegation, according to the newspaper.
In addition, a woman who says her brother had been sexually abused by Hastert testified that he felt "betrayed, ashamed and embarrassed."
Jolene Burdge said Hastert abused her brother, Stephen Reinboldt, throughout his years at Yorkville High School. Reinboldt died of AIDS. Burdge went public with her story last year to give voice to her brother who did not report the abuse at the time because he felt no one would believe him.
She turned toward Hastert and said, "Don't be a coward ... tell the truth." Burdge also said, "I hope I have been your worst nightmare."
The lead prosecutor said Wednesday he wishes the former speaker could have been charged with the sexual abuse he was trying to cover up.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Block said that Hastert's conduct while a high school teacher and coach was "horrendous."
The maximum penalty the judge could have imposed was five years in prison, but Hastert's lawyers had asked for probation, citing his declining health and the public shame. Here's hoping his failing health leads to 15 years amounting to life in prison.
Prosecutors went into graphic detail about the allegations for the first time earlier this month, describing how Hastert would sit in a recliner chair in the locker room with a close view of the showers.
The victims, prosecutors said, were boys between 14 and 17, and Hastert was in his 20s and 30s. The abuse occurred in a motel and the locker room at Yorkville High School outside Chicago.
UPDATE: Meanwhile ...