Former House Speaker Pleads Guilty to Concealing Blackmail Payments

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While pleading guilty on Wednesday to concealing $1.7 million in blackmail payments, former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert admitted to the judge that he knew his actions were illegal. In exchange for Hastert’s guilty plea, federal prosecutors dropped the second charge of making false statements to the FBI and recommended a lenient sentence for the former House Speaker.

In his plea agreement, Hastert admitted to meeting with a person described only as “Individual A” multiple times in 2010. During these meetings, they discussed Hastert’s past crimes against Individual A that had occurred several decades earlier. Hastert eventually agreed to pay $3.5 million in order “to compensate for and keep confidential his prior misconduct against Individual A.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, two federal law enforcement officials confirmed that Individual A is a male and that the prior misconduct involved sexual abuse during Hastert’s time as a high school teacher and coach. Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville, Illinois, between 1965 and 1981. Individual A was a resident of Yorkville and has known Hastert most of his life, but the statute of limitations ran out on any possible criminal charges for sexual abuse.

Between 2010 and 2014, Hastert withdrew approximately $1.7 million in cash from several banks and gave the hush money to Individual A in order to buy his silence. From June 2010 to April 2012, Hastert made fifteen $50,000 cash withdrawals from Old Second Bank, People’s State Bank, and Castle Bank. When bank representatives began questioning Hastert regarding his routine $50,000 cash withdrawals, the former House Speaker restructured his withdrawals in increments of less than $10,000 to evade reporting the large transactions.

From July 2012 to December 6, 2014, Hastert withdrew $952,000 in increments of less than $10,000 while continuing to make regular payments to Individual A. In 2013, the FBI and IRS began investigating Hastert’s surreptitious cash withdrawals to determine whether he was using the money for criminal purposes or blackmail payments. While being questioned by FBI agents on December 8, 2014, Hastert lied about keeping the cash withdrawals for himself.

Instead of admitting to making routine payments to Individual A, Hastert told FBI agents, “I kept the cash. That’s what I’m doing.”

On May 28, Hastert was charged with structuring cash withdrawals of $952,000 on at least 106 occasions in order to evade the requirement that banks report cash transactions over $10,000, and lying to the FBI about his withdrawals. Hastert initially faced a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.

Hastert pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of illegally structuring cash withdrawals in order to evade financial reporting requirements. In exchange for his guilty plea, federal prosecutors agreed to drop the second count of making false statements to the FBI and recommended a sentence of zero to six months in prison, although the judge could sentence Hastert to up to five years in prison and fine him $250,000. Reading from a statement, Hastert admitted to U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin, “I didn’t want them to know how I would spend the money.”

When asked if he understood at the time that his conduct was wrong, Hastert answered, “Yes.”

His sentencing is scheduled for February 29.

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