On Wednesday, a judge handed Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert a 15-month prison sentence in a case that’s seen more twists than a Law and Order: SVU episode. Allegations of Hastert’s sexual misconduct were recently made public after his conviction for circumventing financial laws. Prosecutors said Hastert’s record of mysteriously structured cash withdrawals all pointed towards hush money. These claims were bolstered by the testimony of several men, who accused Hastert of sexually abusing them during his tenure as a high school wrestling coach. The incidents dated back to the 1960s and 1970s, and the dollar amounts in question were staggering. Hastert admitted withdrawing $1.7 million in exchange for “silence and [to] compensate for past misconduct” towards an unnamed person, and he reportedly promised to pay $3.5 million to another.
The statute of limitations has long since expired on the sexual abuse cases, but prosecutors still hoped to hold Hastert responsible for the violation of banking laws, which he evaded in an attempt to cover up his past crimes. That’s a small legal consolation prize, but Hastert was made to face one of his accusers in court during his sentencing. The 74-year-old disgraced former Speaker approached the bench in a walker with this statement:
“I am deeply ashamed to be standing here today. I know I am here because I mistreated some of my athletes that I coached. I want to apologize to the boys I mistreated. I was wrong and I accept that.”
Hastert’s language seems purposely ambiguous, but Judge Thomas M. Durkin flat-out asked Hastert if he specifically abused one teenager, and Hastert admitted to doing so. Durkin did not hold back in his assessment. He referred to Hastert as a “serial child molester” and also ordered him into a treatment plan for sex offenders. Hastert’s own statement followed this one issued to the court by his attorneys:
“Mr. Hastert is deeply sorry and apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago and the resulting harm he caused to others. Mr. Hastert’s fall from grace has been swift and devastating. Neither we as his lawyers, nor Mr. Hastert, have the present insight to understand and reconcile the unfortunate and harmful incidents he caused decades ago with the enduring achievements, leadership, and generosity that earned him extraordinary affection and respect throughout this country during his many years of public service.”
A number of Hastert’s former colleagues wrote letters of support during this case’s sentencing phase. In particular, Former House Rep. Tom DeLay spoke to his friend’s “integrity and values” and commitment to Bible studies. DeLay also believes that Hastert “doesn’t deserve what he is going through.”
Before sentencing, one of Hastert’s former wrestlers, Scott Cross, identified himself in open court. Cross said his experience at age 17 still haunts him: “Judge, I wanted you to know the pain and suffering he caused me then, and the pain and suffering he causes me today.” Hastert faced up to five years in prison for the financial misconduct case. Fifteen months seems a little light, all things considered.