Dennis Hastert has gone from being the longest-serving Republican U.S. House Speaker to the highest-ranking federal public official to go to jail. Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in a stunning move by federal Judge Thomas Durkin, who went way beyond the sentencing recommendations that both sides had agreed to.
Hastert was also sentenced to two years of supervised release by Durkin, and will be forced to pay $250,000. Durkin called Hastert a "serial child molester," and ordered him to undergo sex offender treatment.
While the charges against Hastert pertained to federal banking violations, much of the hearing centered on the alleged sexual abuse that took place decades ago when Hastert worked as a wrestling coach at Yorkville High School.
One of the alleged victims revealed himself as Scott Cross, the 53-year-old brother of former Illinois House Minority Leader Tom Cross.
Cross testified that Hastert sexually abused him as student at Yorkville High School.
"I've always felt that what Hastert did to me was my darkest secret," Cross said fighting tears as Hastert looked on.
"As a 17-year-old boy, I was devastated. I felt intense pain, shame and guilt," he said, describing how Hastert persuaded him to take off his pants during a massage and how Hastert molested him.
Cross says he didn't come forward to his family until the Hastert charges went public last year.
Hastert, in a prepared statement, admitted to "mistreating some boys I coached." He said he was sorry and has had to come to grips in the last 11 months with things that happened four decades ago.
"Did you sexually abuse [Scott Cross]?" Durkin asked Hastert.
"I don't remember, but I accept his statement," Hastert responded.
Jolene Burdge, the brother of former equipment manager Stephen Reinboldt, another alleged victim, also testified by reading a letter Reinboldt wrote to their mother before he died of AIDS. Burdge blames Hastert for taking her brother’s innocence.
"I'd always felt that, if given a chance, I'd confront you face to face and make you accountable for sexually molesting my brother," she said. "You think you can deny your abuse because Steve isn't here. That's why I'm here."
"Tell the truth, Mr. Hastert. What you did wasn't misconduct,” she said. “It was sexual abuse of a minor."
"Did you sexually abuse Mr. Reinboldt?'" Durkin asked Hastert.
"That was a different situation," Hastert responded. After repeated prodding from Durkin, Hastert admitted to sexual abuse.
Hastert's attorney argued that Hastert hadn't fully come to grips with what he had done years ago, and disclosed that he asked Tom Cross to write a letter in support of him, despite the abuse of his brother. Nonetheless, the defense argued that the public shame of Hastert's fall from grace was significant punishment and that his health was failing, arguing for probation instead of prison time.
Hastert was wheeled into the courtroom Wednesday and sat staring at the witness testimony throughout most of the proceeding. He appeared frail and rose to speak with the help of a walker.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz
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