Dennis Hastert's guilty plea could keep scandal details out of public view

Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of violating federal banking laws and lying to the FBI. 

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP
Former US House Speaker Dennis Hastert (r.) departs the federal courthouse Wednesday, in Chicago, where he changed his plea to guilty in a hush-money case that alleges he agreed to pay someone $3.5 million to hide claims of past misconduct.

Former US House Speaker Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of money structuring and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an attempt to hush allegations of sexual misconduct.

This is a change from Mr. Hastert’s original not guilty plea in June in relation to the May 28 indictment and likely secures the downfall of a man many looked up to.

Hastert, who served for eight years as Speaker, left Congress in 2007. Prior to public office, Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in his hometown of Yorkville, Ill.

Anonymous law enforcement sources told Reuters that Hastert sexually abused a male student at the high school and paid $3.5 million to an unidentified person to conceal evidence.

Shortly after charges against Hastert became public, Jolene Burdge, a Montana woman came forward claiming “Hastert had abused her brother, Steve Reinboldt, a Yorkville grad who died in 1995 of AIDS complications,” reported NBC News. But authorities determined that Mr. Reinboldt was not the male student Hastert supposedly paid off.

In the payoff scheme, which began in 2010, Hastert allegedly made fifteen withdrawals of $50,000 before withdrawing nearly $1 million in increments under $10,000 in order to avoid required reports of large cash transactions.

It was this anti-money laundering law that instigated investigation into Hastert’s actions, not the allegations of sexual misconduct.

When questioned by the FBI, Hastert maintained that he was “keeping the cash for himself,” which the indictment indicates was a blatant lie.

While the charges implicate up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Hastert will face up to six months behind bars when he is formally charged February 29, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

David B. Smith, a criminal defense lawyer at Smith & Zimmerman who has represented over 50 clients in “structuring” cases, told The Washington Post that “sentencing guidelines on structuring are outdated.”

“Unless the judge is just trying to punish him for the sexual offense that just couldn’t be prosecuted, I don’t see him getting any jail time, and I don’t think he should get any jail time,” Mr. Smith told the Post.

Furthermore, Hastert’s plea deal will “likely avoid the public release of potentially embarrassing information about the case,” meaning the identity of the male student may never be known publicly.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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