WASHINGTON: Stunning new details have emerged of ex-House speaker Dennis Hastert’s molestation of boys as young as 14, a precipitous fall from grace for a man once second in line to the presidency.
The 74-year-old Republican lobbyist agreed to pay $3.5 million to one of his youngest victim, federal prosecutors said in a filing detailing for the first time abuse allegations by five former high school wrestlers he coached.
He pleaded guilty in October to illegally structuring bank withdrawals over 4.5 years that prosecutors identified as hush money.
Hastert told government agents he was being extorted by someone falsely accusing him of abuse, but recorded conversations between him and the person identified in Friday’s filing as “Individual A” cast doubt over his claim.
Prosecutors suggested Hastert be handed a six-month sentence at an April 27 hearing, taking note of his ill health – he suffered a stroke after pleading guilty – but stressing that he could continue to receive medical care and medication while in prison.
Statutes of limitations have long passed on the abuse, which took place when Hastert taught and coached at Yorkville High School in Illinois from the 1960s to the early 1980s, so he is only being charged for breaking financial laws.
Hastert’s abuse consisted of “intentional touching of minors’ groin area and genitals or oral sex with a minor,” according to prosecutors.
The nature of the misconduct, allegations of which first emerged last year, had not previously been officially confirmed.
Ironically, it was a scandal involving a former lawmaker – Mark Foley – sending sexually explicit and suggestive messages to teenage pages, or aides, that led to Hastert’s downfall as speaker of the House of Representatives, a post he held from 1999 to 2007.
Prosecutors said the money served to pay Individual A after Hastert made him stay in his motel room during a wrestling camp and massaged his groin area.
“Defendant used his position of trust as a teacher and coach to touch a child’s genitals and then undress and ask the child for a back massage in a motel room,” prosecutors wrote of that encounter.
“There is no ambiguity; defendant sexually abused Individual A.”
In the end, Hastert was able to actually pay Individual A a total of $1.7 million — half the agreed amount — between 2010 and 2014 in regular payments that only stopped when the government started investigating him.
Hastert gave two other boys aged 14 and 17 a massage in the locker room before performing an unspecified sex act on them in separate instances.
One of those boys indicated that the coach would sit in a recliner chair “in direct view of the shower stalls in the locker room where he sat while the boys showered,” prosecutors said.
Stephen Reinboldt, who died in 1995, was abused by Hastert throughout his time in high school in 1967-1971, according to his sister and others.
During a massage session, Hastert brushed his hand over the genitals of another boy, who found the encounter “very weird.”
An attorney for Hastert did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but his lawyers did offer an apology in a memorandum earlier this week.
“First and foremost, Mr Hastert is deeply sorry and apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago and the resulting harm he caused to others,” it read.
“He regrets that he resorted to structuring the withdrawal of his money from banks in an effort to prevent the disclosure of that misconduct.”
On Friday, Hastert filed under a seal a response to the government’s pre-sentence investigation report. A hearing has been set for Wednesday on whether his response can remain under seal.
In his filing, Assistant US Attorney Steven Block accused Hastert of “stunning hypocrisy.”
In a 2004 memoir, Hastert wrote that “there’s never sufficient reason to try to strip away another person’s dignity.”
Block commented: “Yet that is exactly what defendant did to his victims. He made them feel alone, ashamed, guilty and devoid of dignity.