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A Chair In The Shower Room, A Portrait On The Capitol Wall, What’s Next For Hastert? Prison Bars?

Once upon a time, Dennis Hastert looked forward to being the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House of Representatives.

Today he is likelier to be remembered for his reclining chair.

As a document filed in federal court in Illinois recently put it, as a high-school wrestling coach, Hastert put a La-Z-Boy-type “chair in direct view of the shower stalls in the locker room where he sat while the boys showered.”

Hastert told people he put it there to keep the boys from fighting. Prosecutors believe that Hastert put it there for the view.

And just when Hastert thought things could not get worse — they got worse. Last week, federal prosecutors released graphic accusations detailing how Hastert sexually abused at least four students who were on his wrestling team.

You would think keeping a large chair in a locker room would raise a few eyebrows. But it didn’t. That was the point. Hastert was practically worshipped at his school and in his town.

“Defendant was not just a teacher and coach,” the prosecutors said in the court filing. “Defendant was famous in Yorkville as the beloved coach of the state champion wrestling team; the leader of a boys’ club that took trips to the Grand Canyon and the Bahamas; and the popular teacher who gave kids rides in his Porsche.”

After the 26-page document by prosecutors became public a few days ago, Andy Richter, sidekick to late-night comic Conan O’Brien, posted a series of tweets:

–“I went to Yorkville HS ’80-’84 & I remember this chair. Purportedly ‘to keep boys from fighting.'”

–“I haven’t thought of it in 30 yrs.”

–“tbh (to be honest), I don’t find it’s upsetting me now. I’m just so struck by how easy it was to do that. Nobody questioned it.”

The only alleged victim of Hastert’s to be named so far is Steve Reinboldt, an equipment manager of the team. In 1979, years after he was out of high school, Reinboldt told his sister that Hastert abused him for four years. His sister asked him why he had not spoken up sooner.

“And he just turned around and kind of looked at me and said, ‘Who is ever going to believe me?'” Reinboldt’s sister said. Reinboldt died in 1995.

“Mr. Hastert is deeply sorry and apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago and the resulting harm he caused to others,” his lawyers have said in a court filing. “Mr. Hastert’s fall from grace has been swift and devastating.”

So much time has passed since Hastert’s alleged abuse of the students that he can no longer be charged for sex crimes. But though Hastert does not dispute all of the sexual acts contained in the federal documents, his lawyers are trying to spin the case as one of a retired, sickly 74-year-old man who has had a stroke and who has been punished enough.

Hastert, who went to an evangelical Christian college and received a 100 percent score from the Christian Coalition of America when he was in public life, is due to be sentenced April 27, at which time one of his victims may testify against him.

To the judge hearing the case, Hastert’s lawyers have written, “We respectfully request that the Court consider the humiliation and isolation that Mr. Hastert and his family have already suffered when determining his sentence.” Hastert served as House speaker for eight years, and now he has been brought low.

After all, his lawyers say, Hastert’s name has “become forever tainted,” and he has been “stung by the public repudiations of him that followed his indictment, including the removal of his portrait from the United States Capitol.”

It is difficult, however, to compare having your portrait taken off a wall to having been sexually abused as a teenager for a period of years.

And the prosecution fired back: “While defendant achieved great success, reaping all the benefits that went with it, these boys struggled, and all are still struggling now with what defendant did to them. Some have managed better than others, but all of them carry the scars defendant inflicted upon them.”

Hastert’s attorneys are seeking a sentence of probation without prison time.

Prosecutors are asking the judge to send Hastert to prison for up to six months.

Hastert himself? He said in a statement in 2003, when he was speaker of the House, “It is equally important to stop those predators before they strike, to put repeat child molesters into jail for the rest of their lives.”

Hastert may have changed his mind about that.

Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2016 CREATORS.COM

Photo: Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert is surrounded by officers as he leaves federal court after pleading not guilty to federal charges of trying to hide large cash transactions and lying to the FBI in Chicago, Illinois, United States, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young  

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert To Plead Guilty: Lawyers

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has reached a deal with prosecutors and expects to plead guilty to wrongdoing in a hush-money case, his lawyers told a federal judge in Chicago on Thursday.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys did not say what the charges were, or whether Hastert, the Republican speaker from 1999 to 2007, would serve time in prison.

He was charged in May with trying to hide large cash transactions as part of a hush-money scheme and with lying to the FBI.

The agreement is expected to be submitted to U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin on Monday, attorneys for Hastert said during a brief court appearance. Hastert did not attend.

Hastert is scheduled to plead guilty on Oct. 28.

Federal prosecutors allege he promised to pay $3.5 million to an unnamed individual from his hometown of Yorkville, Illinois, to conceal past misconduct.

The individual who was allegedly receiving hush money from Hastert has not surfaced publicly. But anonymous law enforcement officials have told a number of media outlets that Hastert was trying to cover up sexual abuse of a male decades ago when he worked as a high school teacher and wrestling coach.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert is surrounded by officers as he leaves federal court after pleading not guilty to federal charges of trying to hide large cash transactions and lying to the FBI in Chicago, Illinois, United States, June 9, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young  

Dennis Hastert Case Leaves Open Many Questions About Mysterious ‘Individual A’

By David Heinzmann and Jeff Coen, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — One by one, men identified by political insiders and the Kendall County rumor mill have denied being “Individual A,” the mysterious figure who prosecutors say took cash from former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to keep quiet about a dark history with him.

They have repeatedly waved off the media, sometimes pointing to others who in turn have told persistent reporters to keep looking.

More than a month after Hastert’s indictment, the identity of the person who sources said was a victim of sexual misconduct by Hastert in connection with his years as a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School remains a secret. The mystery surrounding Individual A begets more questions as the case unfolds.

Does the government regard Individual A as a victim, a witness, or as a planner taking part in an illegal scheme? Or some combination of all three? What did Individual A do with the $1.7 million Hastert allegedly gave him before investigators caught up to the former congressman’s activities? And how did the two reach an agreement for Hastert to pay a total of $3.5 million, a staggering sum even for a man who turned to a lucrative lobbying career after decades in public service.

Some legal experts have speculated that Individual A is being treated as a cooperating witness. But prosecutors may not need his testimony to prove their allegation that Hastert illegally took large sums of money out of the bank without reporting it, then lied to the FBI when asked about what he was doing.

The government likely does not need Individual A’s cooperation to make its case against Hastert on the bank and lying charges, said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the Chicago office of Kroll, a corporate investigations firm. But information from the recipient of the money does help prosecutors build a more robust story around their case.

“In theory, no, it doesn’t matter why one takes out the money, nor why someone lies to the FBI. The fact is, they do it,” Cramer said. “However, that part of the tale, if it goes to trial, the jury is going to want to hear … It does help explain why (Hastert) was so frantically trying to get money out, and after the banks came to him, he continued.”

Sources with knowledge of the case have said Hastert made payments to cover up sexual misconduct against Individual A, identified only as a man. For their part, prosecutors have yielded few clues in court paperwork about that person’s identity, writing that Individual A lived previously in Yorkville and has known Hastert most of their life. In fact, prosecutors have taken steps to protect Individual A’s identity, filing court papers seeking to permanently seal records that could disclose his identity.

In the indictment, prosecutors noted Hastert’s early career as a teacher and wrestling coach between 1965 and 1981, which sent the media digging through Yorkville High School yearbooks and knocking on doors of former high school wrestlers now in their 50s and 60s.

Legal experts agree it is likely the clues in the indictment itself are on point.

“The indictment typically will contain language that is relevant to the offense, otherwise a good lawyer is going to be able to strike language from it,” said longtime defense attorney Joseph Duffy.

Since the indictment is required to outline the elements of the offense, it seems clear the government is establishing the circumstances under which Individual A was wronged by Hastert, said Duffy, who was previously a high-ranking federal prosecutor.

Allowing witnesses and victims in federal prosecutions to remain anonymous is not uncommon. But few cases share details as intriguing as the Hastert prosecution. Had the news of Individual A come out during Hastert’s eight-year tenure as speaker, the case would have been a major Beltway scandal.

Adding to the secrecy surrounding Individual A, and possibly extending anonymity to that person permanently, the judge in the case has granted a prosecutors’ motion for a protective order covering information surrounding the case.

Prosecutors contend that discovery material to be turned over to the defense could have an impact on “law enforcement interests” if it were made public. In their motion filed in June, prosecutors also said they were seeking to protect “the privacy interests of third parties.”

Under the court order, aspects of the case related to Individual A could be filed under seal and not publicly disclosed without the court’s permission. Sensitive discovery material would either be returned to the government or destroyed after the case is over.

That means the identity of Individual A is unlikely to be disclosed in the court case unless Hastert decides to proceed to a trial and prosecutors needed to call Individual A to the witness stand to build the case against him. The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago declined to comment for this story.

But closing the door on the case without airing the whole story about Individual A’s role may leave open questions about what the public has a right to know. Authorities have not said whether Hastert’s years in Congress, including eight as speaker, had any bearing on his conduct with Individual A. They also have not said whether Individual A owes taxes on the money. Legal experts are somewhat divided on that question.

Prosecutors described the payments from Hastert as an agreement to “compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct.” Part of the intrigue, legal experts said, is whether Individual A took part in a crime by striking an agreement for hush money or whether he received an informal settlement for injuries negotiated in good faith with Hastert.

“As a general rule, compensation for injuries is not taxable,” Duffy said.

However, the indictment does say the payment of money was to have Individual A help cover past misconduct, meaning keep it quiet, Duffy said, adding “payment for the concealment of past wrongdoing would be taxable.”

In figuring out “the various tax possibilities of these questions, there’s a lot of ‘it depends,’ ” said Scott Coffina, a former federal prosecutor who now specializes in white-collar criminal defense and corporate investigations. The tax status of the money may be an open question at this stage in the case, he said.

“The government may ask (Individual A) about it,” said Coffina, who is based in Philadelphia. “And the IRS may be interested.”

But experts agreed that taking Individual A to task for any role in the alleged scheme is tricky if the government believes he was in fact a victim of sexual misconduct. If prosecutors want to treat Individual A’s involvement as if he was a victim in a civil case, there may be room to do so, notwithstanding the unusual nature of the arrangement between Hastert and Individual A.

“Settlements can be pretty informal,” said Michael Knoll, a tax policy expert who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Settlements for damages related to physical injuries are tax exempt under the law, Knoll said. “The sexual abuse would trigger the physical element” of the tax exemption, he said.

But Cramer, who has experience in financial crimes prosecutions, was skeptical that the government would treat the Hastert payments as if they were a tax-free settlement.

“Could lawyers argue that and try to put a square peg in a round hole? Sure lawyers can argue that. But this is not a settlement,” he said.

If Individual A didn’t pay taxes on the money Hastert provided, it is likely the IRS would be interested, Cramer said: “This is a pitch coming right down the plate, and the IRS is not just going to look at it without taking a swing.”

Others agreed that if the tax-free settlement notion doesn’t prevail, the IRS is unlikely to take a pass on taxes owed just because Individual A may have been a victim.

“A sympathetic situation doesn’t mean you don’t owe taxes,” Knoll said.

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Doug Bowman via Flickr

Dennis Hastert Pleads Not Guilty To Lying To FBI About Hush Money

By Jason Meisner and Steve Schmadeke, Chicago Tribune (TNS)

CHICAGO — Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday afternoon to charges he paid hush money to cover up wrongdoing in his past and then lied about it to the FBI.

For 15 awkward minutes before the hearing began, Hastert sat at the defense table with the courtroom packed with reporters, his eyes darting to the ceiling and then down to his hands. Later, as the attorneys conferred with each other, Hastert sat by himself, staring straight ahead.

Hastert, 73, was released on his own recognizance. The judge set standard conditions of bond: He can’t violate the law, must attend all his court appearances and can travel only in the continental U.S. while the charges are pending.

Hastert had already surrendered his passport.

“Yes, sir,” Hastert said when asked if he understood the terms and conditions of the bail.

The arraignment was highlighted by U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin addressing head-on some potential conflict-of-interest issues that arose after he was randomly selected as the judge to hear the high-profile case.

The judge noted that he had made two donations to Hastert’s campaign more than a decade ago while he was a private citizen. He also said he had written an email in the mid-1990s to a Hastert staffer as part of his effort at the time to be appointed to the federal bench, “but nothing came of it,” said Durkin, who only became a federal judge a few years ago.

In addition, the judge said he had worked at the same law firm as Hastert’s son, Ethan, including working on one matter together.

“We were friendly business colleagues, but I do not consider him a personal friend,” Durkin said.

The judge said he didn’t think he should be disqualified from the case based on the federal statute at issue.

“I have no doubt I can be impartial in this matter,” he said.

But he said he wasn’t so naive to believe that some would not question his impartiality.

The judge said he would step aside if either side decided he should remove himself from the case. He asked for them to make that decision by Thursday.

“I will not be offended whatever the result, I assure you,” the judge said.

Earlier in the afternoon, Hastert arrived at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse for his arraignment on the federal charges.

Dressed in a blue tie and dark suit, Hastert got out of a black vehicle at 12:45 p.m. amid a scrum of cameramen and reporters. He was escorted by several Homeland Security officers through the revolving doors and went through security, not responding to shouts for comment.

Hastert got on an elevator to the 11th floor to apparently meet with the pretrial services department before his 2 p.m. arraignment. He was accompanied by three attorneys, one of whom shouted “Watch it!” as cameramen crowded in near the revolving door.

Earlier in the day, Hastert arrived at the Loop offices of the Sidley Austin law firm. Reporters yelled to him through the closed window of the vehicle, but the former U.S. House speaker did not respond.

Dozens of television crews and reporters from around the country were at the federal courthouse awaiting Hastert’s arraignment. The hearing was the Illinois Republican’s first court appearance since the bombshell charges against him were unveiled nearly two weeks ago.

A long line of people stretched down the hall in front of Durkin’s courtroom — all hoping to attend the arraignment. In a nearby courtroom being used to handle the crowd of reporters, about 10 journalists awaited the hearing with their laptop computers at the ready more than half an hour before the proceeding.

The indictment alleges Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to someone from his days as a high school teacher not to reveal a secret about past misconduct by the former House speaker.

Tuesday’s hearing came amid a deepening mystery surrounding Hastert’s alleged wrongdoing during his days as a teacher and wrestling coach decades ago in Yorkville, Illinois. The carefully worded, seven-page indictment unsealed May 28 only hinted at Hastert’s dark past in alleging he had agreed to willingly pay $3.5 million to a person identified as Individual A to hide previous wrongdoing, but federal law enforcement sources have said Hastert was making the payments to conceal sexual abuse of a Yorkville High School student.

Since the charges were filed, other details have bubbled to the surface. Law enforcement sources said the FBI had interviewed a second person who raised similar allegations of sexual abuse against Hastert that corroborated the account of Individual A. Last week, a onetime Yorkville resident took to national television to say Hastert abused her now-deceased brother while he was a student.

Amid the disclosures, Hastert has remained silent, staying out of public view while reporters scoured his home base in Chicago’s western suburbs for clues. Numerous former wrestlers under Hastert who have been contacted by the Tribune have either declined to comment or said they do not know the identity of the person described as Individual A.

Adding to the intrigue, no lawyer stepped forward to defend Hastert in the media as typically happens in high-profile criminal cases. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon that the identity of Hastert’s attorney was even made public when Thomas C. Green, a longtime white-collar defense attorney with the law firm of Sidley Austin in Washington, filed his appearance with the court.

(Freelance reporter Gary Gibula contributed.)

(c)2015 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves Chicago’s Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday, June 9, 2015, after pleading not guilty to charges that he evaded bank regulations and lied to the FBI. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS)