A high school friend of the young man whose sister now says Denny Hastert molested him for years during the 1970s has told the Chicago Sun-Times that he strongly doubts the claims.
“Personally, unless Denny came to me and said, ‘I did something bad,’ I truly couldn’t believe it, wouldn’t believe it,” said Mike Thanepohn, 61.
Thanepohn was a wrestler at Yorkville High School from 1967 to 1971, when Hastert was the coach. Thanepohn said he was good friends with Steve Reinboldt, the wrestling team’s manager — and the young man who, Reinboldt’s sister has told ABC News, was an abuse victim of Hastert’s for years.
Hastert is scheduled to appear in federal court in Chicago next week to face charges of lying to the FBI. He’s accused of withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his bank to pay someone to compensate them for – and to maintain their silence about – some long-ago misconduct. Sources have said that misconduct was sexual in nature and occurred years ago, when Hastert was a teacher and coach at Yorkville, long before he rose to become the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Most who knew Hastert back then were shocked by the allegations, and the half-dozen or so former wrestlers who have talked to the Sun-Times all say they saw no indication of any abuse by the retired congressman.
Reinboldt’s sister, Jolene Burdge, told ABC News that her brother told her about the alleged abuse in 1979. Reinboldt, a 1971 Yorkville High graduate, died of AIDS in 1995, according to Burdge.
A call to Burdge Friday morning was not immediately returned. Another sister and a brother of Reinboldt’s also did not respond to several messages left for them on Friday.
Thanepohn said he used to hang out with Reinboldt — often going to the local Tastee Freez or watching black-and-white Frankenstein movies at each other’s homes — said he distrusts Reinboldt’s sister’s claims.
Steven Heubel, who was a wrestler at the same time Reinboldt was the team’s manager, described Reinboldt as “well known and well liked.”
And Heubel, like Thanepohn, said he never saw or heard of any talk of misconduct involving Hastert.
“I was in the wrestling room, I wrestled under Denny for four years,” said Heubel, who also worked with Hastert on the school football team, where the former congressman was an assistant coach.
Thanepohn, who now lives about 10 miles west of Yorkville, said his friendship with Reinboldt suffered a serious setback when Reinboldt made a pass at him.
“He was at my parents’ home, in my room watching TV,” Thanepohn said. “His action came out of nowhere. I thought, ‘What the hell?’ This is a guy who I’d hung out with for years. … We still remained friends, but it was certainly a different perspective. It was very plain to him that I had absolutely no interest in him at all.”
Thanepohn said he was with Hastert in groups and alone, and never saw or experienced anything inappropriate.
Thanepohn, an operations manager for a company that builds trade-show displays, said he last saw Reinboldt at a Yorkville High class reunion about 20 years ago.
Reinboldt was living on the West Coast at the time, Thanepohn said.
“He’s out in the parking lot, talking about scoring some drugs,” Thanepohn said. “With that comment from him, I pretty much kind of shuffled away. It’s not part of my life.”