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Former House Speaker pleads guilty in hush-money case

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert has pled guilty to charges related to lying to the FBI about illegal withdrawals of $1.7 million used to cover up alleged sexual misconduct. Hastert could face anywhere from six months in prison to five years, but it is most likely that he will only be sentenced with probation or home confinement.

Hastert was charged in July with violating federal banking laws and, as a result, willfully lying to the FBI during its investigation of said violations. Hastert had structured at least 106 cash withdrawals adding up to about $952,000 from July 2012 through December 2014. Beginning in April 2012, Hastert had been making similar withdrawals of $50,000 each before being questioned by bank representatives. By July, each withdrawal was less than $10,000 so as to avoid reporting requirements. From the start of the withdrawals—approximately June 2012— through the time of FBI questioning in December 2014, Hastert withdrew over $1.7 million.

During an interview with the FBI on Dec. 8, 2014, Hastert intentionally concealed the purpose of these withdrawals and to whom they were going. The plea agreement and the indictment, which was made public in May, refers the recipient as “Individual A,” to whom Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to “compensate for and keep confidential his prior misconduct against Individual A.” Although the plea agreement does not specify the nature of this misconduct, sources say that the person is a former student of Hastert’s who alleged that Hastert molested him several decades ago while Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville, Illinois.

Hastert had told investigators that he was simply keeping the cash someplace safe after he withdrew it, so as to avoid having to disclose for what purpose the money was intended. When speaking before Judge Thomas M. Durkin regarding his plea, Hastert admitted that he knew that what he was doing was wrong

Hastert served as Speaker of the House as a Republican from Illinois from 1999 to 2006, the longest tenure of any GOP Speaker. He then became a successful lobbyist after leaving Congress. His political legacy has largely been a positive one, which likely contributed to his choice to avoid a trial. As of now, allegations of sexual misconduct are merely allegations, but testimony given under oath could publically unearth facts that Hastert would rather keep hidden.

Hastert was charged with structuring transactions to avoid federal reporting requirements as well as lying to federal investigators about the transactions, but pled guilty only to the first charge. Though Hastert acknowledged the fact that he lied to the FBI during questioning, the plea deal indicates that prosecutors will drop that charge. Federal sentencing guidelines recommend zero to six months of jail time, but Judge Durkin could choose to sentence Hastert to up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 with up to three years of probation. Hastert’s sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 29, 2016.  However, under the terms of his plea agreement, it is unlikely Hastert will end up going to jail, with the probably of only a six month sentence