Dennis Hastert sentencing: Here's what you need to know about scandal

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

Accuser Suing Former Speaker Hastert for $1.8M

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert will be sentenced in federal court Wednesday morning, capping a sex-abuse scandal that unspooled last May with an indictment detailing financial funny business -- and hinting at a far more sordid secret.

Here's what you need to know about the case -- from why they call Hastert the "Accidental Speaker" to the easy chair he positioned in front of a high-school boys' locker room.

Who is Dennis Hastert anyway?

Hastert, 74, was the longest-serving GOP Speaker of the House in history, presiding from 1999 to 2007. He was nicknamed the "Accidental Speaker" because he was catapulted from a junior position to a job two heartbeats away from the Oval Office after Newt Gingrich was forced out and a likely successor was doomed by an extramarital affair.

On Capitol Hill, Hastert was more often called "Coach," a nod to his humble beginnings as a teacher and wrestling instructor at Yorkville High School in Illinois before he became a state legislator and ran for Congress. Married since 1973, Hastert has two sons -- both of whom joined pols like Tom DeLay and Porter Goss in writing letters asking the judge to spare him prison.

Dennis Hastert through the years:

16 PHOTOS
Dennis Hastert former house speaker
See Gallery
Dennis Hastert sentencing: Here's what you need to know about scandal
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves after a guilty plea at Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015 in Chicago. (Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse, Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in Chicago for his arraignment on federal charges that he broke federal banking laws and lied about the money when questioned by the FBI. The indictment two weeks ago alleged 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. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert arrives at the federal courthouse Tuesday, June 9, 2015, in Chicago for his arraignment on federal charges that he broke federal banking laws and lied about the money when questioned by the FBI. The indictment two weeks ago alleged 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. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, right, addresses the Illinois House, where he began his political career, while Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, looks on during session at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. The former high school wrestler coach from Yorkville was in Springfield to support a resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to restore grappling to the Olympic Games.while on the House floor (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
A pedestrian walks past the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, Monday, June 1, 2015, in Chicago where former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is scheduled to make his first court appearance Thursday on allegations he agreed to pay $3.5 million in hush money to someone from the Illinois town where he was once a teacher and coach. (AP Photo/Christian K. Lee)
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 15: Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-IL) walks through Statuary Hall on his way to the House floor to make his farewell address to Congress November 15, 2007 in Washington, DC. He announced his resignation today and said he will leave office before the end of December. Hastert, 65, announced in August he would not seek reelection in 2008. Hastert was the longest-serving Republican speaker in U.S. history, and the first speaker since 1955 to remain in Congress after losing the speakership. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert addresses the Illinois House, where he began his political career, during session at the Illinois State Capitol Thursday, May 2, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. The former high school wrestler coach from Yorkville was in Springfield to support a resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to restore grappling to the Olympic Games while on the House floor. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
House Speaker John Boehner, left, and former Speaker Dennis Hastert listen as former Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks during a tribute to Henry Clay at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., Friday, June 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert gestures as he speaks in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 28, 2009, following the unveiling of his portrait. Hastert was the 51st Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999-2007. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert speaks to lawmakers on the Illinois House of Representatives floor at the state Capitol in Springfield on Wednesday, March 5, 2008. Hastert was being honored by Illinois lawmakers for his many years of legislative service. On Saturday March 8, 2008, voters in 14th Congressional District will vote in a special election to fill the seat of the retiring Hastert. Running to fill the seat are businessmen Democrat Bill Foster and Republican Jim Oberweis. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., talks to a reporter on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007, after giving a farewell speech on the floor on the House. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Dennis Hastert, former speaker of the US House of Representatives, attends the annual meeting of the Iranian resistance, presided over by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Villepinte, near Paris, on June 22, 2013. Some 500 parliamentarians from the United States, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and Arab countries were expected to join the gathering on June 22, one week after Hassan Rowhani, a moderate cleric, was declared winner of Iran's presidential election, ending an eight-year conservative grip on the Islamic republic's administration under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Maryam Rajavi, president of the NCRI, denounced the 'sham election' in Iran and called on the West to stand firm with respect to Hassan Rohani, 'responsible for the machine or repression'. AFP PHOTO / JACQUES DEMARTHON (Photo credit should read JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - JULY 28: Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (C) is joined by current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) during a ceremony unveiling Hastert's portrati at the U.S. Capitol July 28, 2009 in Washington, DC. Hastert is the longest serving Republican speaker to date, holding the post from 1999-2007. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FILE - In this 1985 file photo, U.S. Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., speaks in Springfield, Ill., when he was an Illinois state Rep. from Oswego. A newly unveiled indictment against Hastert released Thursday, May 28, 2015, accuses the Republican of agreeing to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep a person from the town where he was a longtime schoolteacher silent about "prior misconduct." (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
FILE - In this July 28, 2009, file photo, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, left, with his wife Jean, right, and grandson Jack, take part in a ceremony in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill, where Hastert's portrait was unveiled. A newly unveiled indictment against Hastert released Thursday, May 28, 2015, accuses the Republican of agreeing to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep a person from the town where he was a longtime schoolteacher silent about "prior misconduct." (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais,File)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Will Hastert go to jail?

There's a good chance he will. Under the terms of Hastert's plea deal, prosecutors are recommending a six-month sentence. The defense, citing his statements of "remorse" as well as some serious health problems, is asking for probation.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin -- who donated to Hastert's 2002 and 2004 re-election campaigns — has signaled that he's not inclined to go easy on the former politician, blasting him during one hearing for a lie he told federal agents.

Wait -- only six months for sexually abusing four boys?

Here's where it gets complicated. Although prosecutors allege in court filings that Hastert molested four students decades ago, he isn't charged with any sexual crime because the statute of limitations has long passed.

Steve Reinboldt, the equipment manager for the wrestling team, left, and Dennis Hastert, the wrestling coach, appear in a 1970 Yorkville High School Yearbook photo. (Photo via Yorkville High School Yearbook)

He was indicted for "structuring" cash withdrawals -- repeatedly taking out $9,000 from four different banks to avoid the requirement, under the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, that any transaction over $10,000 be reported to regulators. (Hastert, by the way, was a big supporter of the Patriot Act).

He was also indicted for lying to investigators probing the suspicious financial activity, though that charge fell by the wayside in the plea deal.

The FBI says it had no inkling of sexual abuse when it began probing the withdrawals. In fact, it was Hastert who led them down that road when he had his lawyers tell agents that he was being extorted by a former student who had made up a molestation claim. Investigators say they soon concluded the accuser was not lying and found others who said they were abused.

What do the four accusers say happened?

Individual A, the man who got $1.7 million from Hastert after confronting him in 2010, told investigators that when he was 14, Hastert arranged for them to share a motel room on a wrestling camp trip, massaged his groin under the guise of treating an injury and then stripped to his underwear and requested a backrub.

Individual B says he was also 14 when Hastert began massaging him after a workout to "loosen him up" and then performed an unspecified sex act on the teen.

Individual D says he was 17 when Hastert offered a massage to help him take off some pounds so he could make a certain weight, then performed a sex act on him.

The fourth accusation comes from beyond the grave. Steven Reinboldt, who died of AIDS in 1994, was the team equipment manager. His sister, Jolene Burdge, says he confided that Hastert molested him throughout high school.

Does Hastert admit he molested the boys?

Not explicitly. His lawyers released a statement on April 9 that said: "Mr. Hastert acknowledges that as a young man, he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry."

In one defense filing, the lawyers suggest the encounter with Individual A might actually have been an innocent massage for an injury but add that Hastert "deeply regrets that the episode occurred." The same filing says that Hastert has no recollection of the incident with Individual D but does not contest that it happened. Prosecutors noted in court papers that Hastert denies he molested Reinboldt, the dead man.

Why did it take so long for these allegations to come out?

The lawyer representing Individual A in a $1.8 million lawsuit against Hastert said that like many who have been sexually abused, he likely blamed himself. He struggled with panic attacks and other problems for years and did not link them to Hastert -- until a conversation in 2008 with another man who said he had been abused by the coach made him see himself as a victim, the lawyer said.

Dennis Hastert in a yearbook photo.

In 2010, Individual A confronted Hastert, who said it had been a "confusing and difficult time in his life" and verbally agreed to pay him $3.5 million for his "pain, suffering and harm," according to court papers. Over the next four years, Hastert paid about half the agreed-upon sum until the FBI probe brought the arrangement to a crashing halt.

The accusations might never have come to light if Hastert had not structured his withdrawals in such a way that it raised red flags. Individual A's lawyer told NBC News he had no interest in going public before the indictment and still wants to stay anonymous.

It's also worth noting that Burdge says she confronted Hastert when he attended Reinboldt's funeral -- and that she tipped off at least one media outlet to what happened to her brother about nine years ago, while Hastert was still in office.

Will Individual A testify at the sentencing?

No. But prosecutors have said they expect Burdge and Individual D to take the stand.

It was D who provided prosecutors one of the most vivid details contained in the court papers, recalling "that defendant put a 'Lazyboy'-type chair in direct view of the shower stalls in the locker room where he sat while the boys showered."

Actor Andy Richter, a Yorkville High alum who briefly overlapped with Hastert, said on Twitter that he remembered the chair, which was supposedly there to stop boys from fighting.

"I'm just so struck by how easy it was to do that," he said. "Nobody questioned it."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners