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Yorkville community can't comprehend allegations against Hastert

YORKVILLE, Ill. — A retired teacher and coach who was on Dennis Hastert’s high school wrestling team says he doubts the allegations of misconduct against the former Speaker of the U.S. House have anything to do with his time at the local high school in this west-suburban community.

Gary Matlock, 61, was Hastert’s first state champion at Yorkville High school and credits Hastert with helping him find his life’s calling. Hastert coached Matlock in wrestling from 1969 to 1973, and Matlock even gets a mention in Hastert’s autobiography, “Speaker: Lessons from forty years in coaching and politics.”

Hastert was indicted Thursday on charges of lying to the FBI and intentionally structuring his bank withdrawals to avoid the federal reporting requirements. The indictment alleges that Hastert was withdrawing large amounts of cash because he had agreed to pay $3.5 million to an unnamed person, identified only as “Individual A,” to “compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against Individual A.”

When asked by the FBI about the cash withdrawals, Hastert did not mention the payments but said he was keeping the money himself and agreed with the FBI’s suggestion that it was because he didn’t think it was safe in the bank.

Though “Individual A” is described as “a resident of Yorkville” who “has known defendant John Dennis Hastert most of Individual A’s life” Matlock does not believe the misconduct, whatever it was — and he wouldn’t speculate — stems from Hastert’s time in Yorkville, where he was a teacher and coach from 1965 through 1981.

“He was like a second father to me — he was like that with all the kids,” Matlock said. “He was the iconic coach who built a program from the ground up, and treated his students and wrestlers as though they were his own kids.”

A source confirmed to the Sun-Times on Friday that the misconduct was sexual in nature, dated to Hastert’s coaching days and involved a male. But Matlock said no one ever suspected anything of that nature — or any other misconduct — by Hastert.

And it seemed nobody in Yorkville wanted to believe the allegations might be true.

Former Kendall County Republican Party chairman Dallas Ingemunson, who helped launch Hastert’s political career, said he never before heard any allegations of sexual misconduct against Hastert and that he doesn’t understand the charges.

He spoke to Hastert Friday morning, he said.

“Under the circumstances he’s doing OK,” said Ingemunson, a former Kendall County state’s attorney. “It’s still tough.”

Ingemunson said he doesn’t think Hastert is in Illinois. “He’s out with his family,” Ingemunson said, adding that Hastert was a “great public servant” who “tried to do good for everybody.”

“I just hope he gets through this with minimum damage,” Ingemunson said. “I feel very bad for him and his family.”

Others who worked with Hastert also declared themselves stunned. Former superintendent of the Yorkville school district, James Garnett; Kendall County Coroner Ken Toftoy; former Yorkville High School teacher Bethany Hage; and Kevin Wolff, who was on the varsity wrestling team at Yorkville in the late 1970s, all said they could not believe the allegations.

Garnett said he “never had a complaint about [Hastert’s] teaching from anyone, including my two kids.”

And Toftoy said, “The guy was always on the up and up as far as I knew — he’s always been good old Denny.”

Hage was even more emphatic. “It is the easiest crime to make up, especially against teachers and priests,” she said.

“I’ve known Denny for many many many years and no, I don’t believe that at all,” she said. “I don’t think you’ll find many people in Yorkville who do.”

And Wolff asked, “Nothing has been proven, right?”

Hastert’s former school district seemed similarly surprised by the allegations. It issued this statement on Friday:

“Yorkville Community Unit School District #115 employed Mr. Dennis Hastert from 1965-1981. The District was first made aware of any concerns regarding Mr. Hastert when the federal indictment was released on May 28, 2015. Yorkville Community Unit School District #115 has no knowledge of Mr. Hastert’s alleged misconduct, nor has any individual contacted the District to report any such misconduct. If requested to do so, the District plans to cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney’s investigation into this matter.”

At Dave’s Meat Market, where Hastert would come in occasionally to have the butchers dress a deer for him, butcher John Zeman wasn’t quite sure what to make of the indictment.

“What it sounds like to me is there was some kind of extortion,” said Zeman, a 2007 Yorkville High School grad who described Hastert as “a nice guy.”

“There’s a lot of greedy people out there who’ll do anything for money. He was probably put in a bad position, and you gotta do what you gotta do. It’s a shame.”

Dennis Hastert, pictured in the 1973 Yorkville High School yearbook when he was the school’s wrestling coach.