Two men allegedly abused by Dennis Hastert seek different ways to ease the emotional pain

I am glad ‘James Doe’ was financially compensated for some of the pain inflicted on him. But is shaking someone down for hush money ever honorable?

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Former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert

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So who is “James Doe?”

That’s the pseudonym assigned to a man who accused former U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert of sexual assault. The man alleges that when he was in school decades ago, Hastert, then a wrestling coach, molested him.

More than 30 years later, in 2010, at a time when Hastert was raking in the dough as a lobbyist, Doe threatened to publicly expose the abuse he says he suffered unless Hastert paid him hush money.

The two men reached a verbal agreement that the former politician would dish out $3.5 million in exchange for Doe’s silence. 

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I can empathize with Doe’s pain. When I was 12, a man sexually assaulted me on my family’s farm. More than 40 years later, I still bear psychological scars. And I have some familiarity with the deep-seated rage Doe must feel. 

So I’m glad James Doe was financially compensated for some of the pain Hastert inflicted on him. 

But is shaking someone down for hush money ever an honorable action? 

James Doe agreed to stay quiet about a man who was once second in line to the presidency. The paid silence is troubling.

Hastert made cash payments to Doe that amounted to $1.7 million. Each cash withdrawal was beneath the $10,000 threshold that banks are required to report to the federal government. Nonetheless, the feds found out, learned it was hush money and discovered at least three other victims of Hastert’s besides Doe.

The statute of limitations for the sex crimes had long since passed. But prosecutors were able to charge the once powerful politician with a financial crime related to how he structured the bank withdrawals.

Hastert admitted to “mistreating” Doe and three others and pleaded guilty to the financial wrongdoing. A federal judge sentenced him to 15 months in prison.

But now Doe is suing Hastert for $1.8 million — the outstanding balance of the hush money Hastert agreed to pay Doe in 2010. The case was supposed to go to trial on Sept. 20. But a tentative, confidential settlement was reached on Sept. 15. 

Kendall County Chief Judge Robert Pilmer ruled that if the case went to trial, Doe would be stripped of his pseudonym and publicly identified. This may have created an incentive for reaching a settlement ahead of time. 

The settlement came as a surprise to me. I was planning to travel to Yorkville to watch the beginning of the trial and learn the identity of the accuser. I wanted to get a sense of his motivations and, to be honest, who he is as a human being. Is he a good person or a bad one?

“I don’t think we should think of him as either a good guy or a bad guy,” Carrie Ward, CEO of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, told me. “He’s a sexual assault survivor trying to come to terms the best way he knows how.”

Ward said it is often harder for male victims to come forward because society is less likely to believe them.

“People think a man should have been able to fight someone off and that they really can’t be victimized,” Ward told me. “But, of course, that isn’t true.”

But one of Hastert’s victims, Scott Cross, did come forward three years ago, speaking publicly about how he had been victimized by his wrestling coach. Scott Cross is the brother of former Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross.

Tom Cross, unaware of his brother’s experience with Hastert, had been a political protege of the future U.S. Speaker of the House. But now he successfully lobbied the Illinois General Assembly to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases.

NBC News at the time reported Scott Cross as saying that he was tormented that he didn’t speak out against Hastert earlier. “The guilt kills me, that I could have perhaps saved other victims,” he said.

But, he said, his work to get the Illinois law changed has served as some consolation. 

“I just hope this gives an outlet for other victims to feel like they should come forward no matter how long they have waited,” Scott Cross said at the time. “I just felt it was the right thing to do.”

Cross is not receiving money from his former coach while Doe is. That’s hardly fair.

Then again, Cross used his experience to change the law and protect others. Perhaps, his compensation is the satisfaction of knowing he did the right thing. 

Scott Reeder is a staff writer for Illinois Times.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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