Dennis Hastert, the former House Speaker, pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to payments of hush money. Based on the federal sentencing guidelines he could serve no time in jail, or up to 6 months behind bars for trying to hide structured financial transactions that would eventually total more than $3 million. “I didn't want them to know how I was spending the money,” Hastert said.
The financial payments may be related to allegations of sexual abuse which occurred back when Hastert was a wrestling coach and teacher at a high school in Yorkville, Illinois. An unnamed former student, known as “Individual A,” who was a minor at the time, was allegedly being paid the money to stay quiet about the sexual abuse.
Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) asked Hastert about structured bank transactions to Individual A, which Hastert initially denied. He initially said the money was for him, to keep the cash for himself. As part of the plea deal, Hastert has pleaded guilty to making the structured payments to avoid federal reporting, but not guilty to the charges of lying to FBI investigators. No charges have yet been filed against Individual A.
Hastert, who was the longest serving GOP speaker in history, has not been criminally charged for sexual abuse. However, after the initial criminal charges came out, allegations came out that he was involved in abusing at least two other students. The plea deal avoids a trial, where more information may have come to light, including more information about the other individuals claiming they were sexually abused by Hastert. Hastert has not commented publicly on the abuse allegations.
According to the indictment, Individual A met with Hastert on multiple occasions in 2010, talking about the past abuse. Later, Hastert allegedly agreed to pay Individual A $3.5 million. Instead of paying the large sum outright, Hastert made regular withdrawals in an attempt to avoid federal reporting requirements. Structuring financial transactions to avoid the law is a federal crime.
The U.S. Bank Secrecy Act requires reporting financial transactions of more than $10,000 in currency. These reporting requirements are often related to identifying money laundering activity. When a bank or other financial institution becomes aware of structuring that may be an attempt to avoid the reporting requirements, they may file a suspicious activity report with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
Under the U.S. Code, it is a crime to structure, attempt, or assist in structuring any transaction with one or more domestic financial institutions for the purpose of evading federal reporting requirements. The penalties include heavy fines, and up to 5 years in prison
The U.S. attorney's office and Hastert's defense lawyers will provide the court with the relevant information about Hastert's background, and details on the charged offenses. Using the sentencing guidelines, the federal judge will determine the base level offense, and then make adjustments by increasing or decreasing those levels. The judge then makes adjustments based on the defendant's criminal history. Sentencing is set for this coming February.