Oct. 15, 2015

Ex-U.S. House Speaker Hastert to plead guilty in hush-money case

Story by David Bailey

Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has reached a deal with prosecutors and is expected 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 to which charge he would plead, 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 about it 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, 73, who is free on bond, was not required to attend Thursday's hearing and was not in court. He pleaded not guilty in June to the two charges.

Hastert has not spoken publicly since his indictment. He is scheduled to plead guilty on Oct. 28.

Hastert was the longest-serving Republican speaker leading the House for eight years before leaving Congress in 2007 and becoming a powerful lobbyist.

After his indictment, Hastert resigned from the Dickstein Shapiro lobbying firm in Washington and from the boards of exchange operator CME Group Inc and REX American Resources Corp.

His alma mater, Wheaton College in suburban Chicago, removed his name from a policy center.

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 several 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.

Hastert has not been charged with any past misconduct. He was a teacher at Yorkville High School in the 1960s and 1970s.

Lawyers for both sides said in September they were negotiating a plea deal to keep the case from going to trial. Durkin had asked both sides to bring him an agreement this week, or he would set a trial date.

According to the indictment, Hastert withdrew $1.7 million in cash from his bank accounts from 2010 to 2014. He is charged with "structuring" $952,000 of the withdrawals, taking the funds out in increments of under $10,000 to evade a requirement that banks report large cash transactions.

Hastert then told the FBI he was keeping the cash for himself, which the indictment said was a false statement.

Each of the charges carries a possible maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Former House Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat from Texas, became the target of an inquiry by the House Ethics Committee over alleged financial improprieties and resigned as speaker in 1989 over the controversy. Wright died earlier this year