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Former Speaker of House Hastert Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison

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Former Speaker of House Hastert Sentenced to 15 Months in Prison

By Nick Gass and Natasha Korecki

04/27/2016 01:14 PM EDT

CHICAGO – U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin has sentenced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert to 15 months in prison, calling him a “serial child molester,” and ignoring the defense’s request for no prison time.

“Some conduct is unforgivable no matter how old it is,” Durkin told Hastert in a lengthy statement at the sentencing hearing this morning.

Durkin called it “deplorable” that Hastert lied to the FBI during an initial investigation. He also said it was “unconscionable” that Hastert initially accused Individual A of extortion, leading the FBI to begin investigating the victim.

“You set him up,” Durkin told Hastert.

Durkin upbraided Hastert for trying to say the conduct against victim A was “ambiguous.”

“There is nothing ambiguous about this,” he said. “This is sexual abuse.”

The sentencing followed a further twist in the already dramatic case of Hastert, when a victim known only as “Individual D” in court filings, identified himself in court as Scott Cross, the brother of longtime Illinois GOP House Minority Leader Tom Cross.

“Coach Hastert sexually abused me,” he said, describing Hastert telling him he’d give him a massage then touching his genitals, back when Cross was a high school wrestler who looked up to Hastert.

The testimony took place this morning at Hastert’s sentencing hearing, at which a judge called Hastert a “serial child molester.”

During his own testimony, Hastert admitted to sexual abuse, but only after the judge directly asked him to clarify what he meant by “mistreating” athletes.

Hastert also admitted that he did in fact sexually abuse the late Stephen Reinbolt.

When the judge pressed Hastert on whether he had abused Reinbolt, an extended silent pause fell over the courtroom.

“Yes,” Hastert finally said.

At that, Reinbolt’s sister, Jolene Burdge, and a family member with her, clasped each others’ hands and together sobbed.

Earlier this month, prosecutors said Hastert abused at least five students when he served as wrestling coach at Yorkville High School more than three decades ago. Keeping that secret served as the underlying motivation in breaking banking laws, prosecutors have argued.

Tom Cross has long considered Hastert a political mentor. He served as the GOP leader in the Illinois House from 2003-2013. In 2014, he lost his statewide bid in the Illinois Treasurer race.

In a recent phone interview, Scott Cross, a former wrestler under Hastert, told POLITICO he personally knew there were more accusers.

“I can tell you, there are nine victims, not five,” Scott Cross said. “I know, I’ve confirmed there are nine.”

When asked his thoughts on Hastert, Cross said, “He has his bed to lie in. His time will come, the Maker’s got his number.”

Cross said he knew Individual A and about the civil case filed against Hastert earlier this week.

“I knew one minute after it was filed,” he said.

In an interview last year with NBC5 reporter and former Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin, Tom Cross expressed shock at the charges: “I am speechless,” Tom Cross said to Marin. “He was the first person I called after hearing the news.”

Hastert, 74, the longest-serving Republican House speaker in U.S. history, is seeking probation.

His attorneys argue that he is frail, was near death late last year, needs constant assistance and now uses a wheelchair. Letters in support of Hastert have painted him as a man of faith and a dedicated public servant. Tom DeLay called him a man of “great integrity.”

But Hastert kept a dark secret for decades. Prosecutors say he so badly wanted to hide his past sexual misconduct, he agreed to pay a former student $3.5 million in hush money. Hastert pleaded guilty last fall to withdrawing $952,000 from the bank in increments crafted to avoid notice, in violation of banking laws. Prosecutors say when FBI investigators approached Hastert, he said he was being falsely extorted and even agreed to record a phone conversation with the individual.

Durkin has isolated that detail, noting it was brand new conduct.

Durkin can sentence Hastert to up to five years in prison and has recently weighed a flurry of letters calling on a tough sentence and others in support of Hastert.

Prosecutors have asked Durkin to sentence Hastert on the “structuring” charge in accordance with guidelines calling for confinement of between zero and six months, but they did not explicitly urge that Hastert be put behind bars.

On Tuesday, new letters were posted into the court record that asked Durkin to factor in past abuse and give Hastert a lengthy sentence to deter other leaders who deal with youth, and recognizing that the statute of limitations on sex crimes are “arbitrary” and have since been reformed.

“This letter is sent to ask that your sentence of Dennis Hastert be severe and include a long jail sentence,” wrote Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP. “We request that you also demand that he establish a victim assistance fund, to assist all his victims, those who have already as well as those who may in the future, speak up and come forward.”

“Mr. Hastert is deeply sorry and apologizes for his misconduct that occurred decades ago and the resulting harm he caused to others,” Hastert attorney Tom Green wrote on behalf of the defense team. “Neither we as his lawyers, nor Mr. Hastert, have the present insight to understand and reconcile the unfortunate and harmful incidents he caused decades ago with the enduring achievements, leadership, and generosity that earned him extraordinary affection and respect throughout this country during his many years of public service. … What we do know is that he will stand before the Court having deteriorated both physically and emotionally, undoubtedly in part due to public shaming and humiliation of an unprecedented degree.”

Green later released an additional statement: “Mr. Hastert acknowledges that as a young man he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry. He earnestly apologizes to his former students, family, friends, previous constituents and all others affected by the harm his actions have caused.”

Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.

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