Dennis Hastert has pleaded guilty to financial crimes he committed while trying to hide $1.7 million in hush-money payments. But when he’s sentenced next month, it appears allegations of sexual abuse he was willing to spend millions to keep secret will finally be put into the open.
At a hearing Tuesday in federal court, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin postponed Hastert’s sentencing hearing to April 27, a three-week extension prosecutors said was needed to give one of Hastert’s alleged victims time to decide whether to testify.
Transcripts of the hearing — which was requested by prosecutors on short notice and did not appear on the court docket until Wednesday — hint that there are at least three, and possibly more, victims of abuse by Hastert during the decades he spent as a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School in the 1970s and ’80s.
Hastert admitted to trying to skirt banking laws to hide $1.7 million in payments to a former student identified as “Individual A.” On Tuesday, prosecutors said an “Individual D” had recently come forward but was unable to attend a sentencing hearing scheduled for April 8. Attorneys in the case also discussed possible testimony by Jolene Burdge, whose deceased brother was allegedly abused by Hastert in the late 1970s.
Hastert’s lawyer, John Gallo, said that neither Individual D nor Burdge were “classic victims” in the case and should give written statements.
Durkin said that he would allow them to testify.
“If victims of — and let’s not beat around the bush — if Individual D wants to come in and talk about being a victim of sexual abuse, he’s entitled to do so because that informs my decision about the history and characteristics of the defendant. It’s that simple,” Durkin said.
“If the sister of a victim of sexual abuse wants to come in and talk about her interactions with her brother and talk about that, that is something that would inform my decisions about the history and characteristics of the defendant,” he said.
The transcript, portions of which were sealed by Durkin, does not mention whether there were others — an “Individual B” or “Individual C” have yet to be mentioned in other court records — who also had contacted prosecutors about abuse by Hastert.
During the hearing, lawyers for Hastert and prosecutors also discussed possible testimony by Burdge, who had been “very public” about her brother’s story already. Burdge, who has been interviewed by ABC News and other outlets about her brother, Steven Reinboldt, confirmed Wednesday that she intends to testify against Hastert.
Prosecutors called her Tuesday to tell her the hearing date had moved, Burdge said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.
Reinboldt was manager of the Yorkville wrestling team when Hastert was coach in the late 1970s, and only told his sister about his encounters with Hastert in the 1990s. Reinboldt died of AIDS in 1995, and never confronted Hastert or tried to get a payout, his sister said. Reinboldt was a teenager when the alleged abuse happened, and Hastert was a popular teacher and coach at Yorkville, she said. By the time Reinboldt had reached adulthood, Hastert was well on his way to becoming one of the nation’s most powerful Republicans.
“I always assumed there were other victims, but I never knew,” Burdge said Wednesday. “There are still people who don’t believe [Hastert] did this. . . . I wanted him to know that his secret didn’t die with Steven.”
Hastert was charged with “structuring” — making nearly $1 million in bank withdrawals in $9,000 increments in order to avoid scrutiny from federal banking regulators. But testimony about the abuse allegations Hastert was trying to cover up will be powerful in the sentencing hearing, said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor.
“Structuring on it’s own is almost the definition of a victimless crime. You’re only denying the government information about these transactions,” Cramer said. He noted that federal authorities monitor transactions of $10,000 or more to track money that might be flowing from illegal activity such as drug trafficking or terrorism.
“You can certainly argue that it’s relevant to his sentence to know what the structuring was for: to keep these allegations of sexual abuse from coming to light,” Cramer said.
Cramer noted that Individual D likely would be the best witness prosecutors have available. Individual A had apparently agreed to a $3.5 million payoff from Hastert in exchange for his silence, and Reinboldt is dead.
“If [Individual D] takes the stand, this is probably the last thing in the world this person wants to talk about, this happening to him 30 or 40 years ago,” Cramer said. “But the sister can only say ‘my brother told me this,’ and Individual A, whoever he is, tried to profit by taking the money.”
Durkin also noted that he had appointed a medical expert to evaluate Hastert’s health, the other factor looming over the former speaker’s sentencing. Gallo told the judge in January that Hastert “nearly died” after suffering a fall late last year and was hospitalized for spinal surgery, a blood infection and a stroke.
Contributing: Jon Seidel