Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Gay politician crime: A federal judge has sentenced former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert to one year and three months in federal prison — a term above what prosecutors had recommended and one that clearly took into account the sexual abuse allegations that generated the criminal case against the Illinois Republican
Prosecutors called the sentence a “day of reckoning” for a man who was once a revered high school teacher and wrestling coach in Illinois and who ascended into the highest ranks of American politics. Even before the hearing, prosecutors had revealed in court filings how Hastert had molested or inappropriately touched five teenagers affiliated with the wrestling team he coached decades ago, and U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin forced him to acknowledge that abuse in specific terms. The hearing, in a small courtroom packed with reporters and others, was an emotional one — highlighted by a tearful statement from a victim speaking publicly for the first time and a lengthy monologue from the judge that leveled sharp attacks at Hastert. For his part, Hastert told the judge that he was “deeply ashamed” to be in court and was still “struggling to come to terms with events that occurred four decades ago.” He said that he “mistreated some of my athletes that I coached.” “The thing I want to do today is say I’m sorry to those I have hurt and misled,” he said. “They looked to me, and I took advantage of them.” Hastert, 74, who arrived at the courthouse in a wheelchair, was allowed to remain free until federal prison officials find a facility that can tend to his substantial health problems. As part of his sentence, he will have to undergo sex offender treatment. He left the courthouse without talking to reporters. Hastert did not plead guilty to any sex crimes. Rather, he admitted in October 2015 that he had withdrawn money in increments that would allow him to avoid having to report it — itself a crime carrying a maximum five-year sentence. The money, investigators would come to learn, was meant to buy the silence of a man who alleged that Hastert had victimized him as a youth. In court, though, Hastert was forced to face abuse allegations in all their dark detail. Jolene Burdge — who has alleged previously that Hastert abused her now deceased brother, Steven Reinboldt, years ago — told Hastert how Reinboldt felt “betrayed, ashamed and embarrassed” by what had happened to him. She said that she hoped by sharing his story publicly, she had become Hastert’s “worst nightmare.” “You were supposed to keep him safe, not violate him,” Burdge said. Scott Cross, 53, a married father of two, fought back tears as he told the judge how Hastert, who also is married and has two children, abused him during his senior year of high school. Cross, who wrestled on a team Hastert coached and whose brother is a former Illinois legislator, said that he “looked up to Coach Hastert. He was a key figure in my life.” But one day after practice, when Cross stayed late to cut weight, he ended up alone with Hastert in a locker room, and Hastert offered him a massage. Cross said that while he was lying on a training table, Hastert pulled down his shorts and touched him in a sexual way. “I was stunned by what he was doing,” Cross said. Cross said that he got up, left and “did not say anything to anyone.” “As a 17-year-old boy, I was devastated,” he said. “I tried to figure out why Coach Hastert had singled me out.” Prosecutors had shared the outlines of Cross’s story in sentencing papers — identifying him only as Individual D — but now marked the first time that he or any victim had shared their experience publicly. As Cross talked, Hastert sat motionless, his head tilted slightly toward the ground. Cross, who works in financial services, said that he felt “pain, shame and guilt” for years and that he confided in his brother and wife about what happened only after the criminal case against Hastert emerged. He said that he had trouble sleeping and working but that he came forward because he wanted the judge to know what happened and he wanted his children to know that “there’s an alternative to staying silent.” “I wanted you to know the pain and suffering he caused me then, and still causes me today,” Cross said. Prosecutors had recommended that Hastert face zero to six months in prison, though in court and afterward, they said that it was not a resolution that brought them any satisfaction. Defense attorneys had advocated for probation. Durkin on multiple occasions called Hastert a “serial child molester,” though he noted that he could not sentence him as such. He pressed Hastert to go beyond his admission that he “mistreated” his former students, asking him outright whether he had sexually abused them. In some cases, Hastert was hesitant. Of Cross, he said: “I don’t remember doing that, but I accept his statement.” He acknowledged abusing another victim, but hemmed and hawed about Reinboldt. “It’s a different situation, Sir,” Hastert said, before ultimately acknowledging that he had sexually abused Reinboldt. Thomas Green, Hastert’s defense attorney, said that Hastert did not seem to be “fully cognizant” of the abuse in some cases. In a statement after the hearing, he said: “Mr. Hastert accepts the sentence imposed by the court today. As he made clear in his own words in addressing the court, he takes sole responsibility for this tragic situation and deeply apologizes to all those affected by his actions. He hopes that he now can focus on addressing his health issues and on healing the emotional damage that has been inflicted on his family and friends who have shown unwavering support throughout this trying time.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Block said that prosecutors would have charged Hastert with sex crimes, or referred him to their state counterparts, if not for the statutes of limitations. And he said that they agreed to a plea deal in the case only because it spared a victim who did not want to be identified from having to take the witness stand at a trial. “Trying to respect his decision was a driving force for us,” Block said.