Updated 10:30 a.m. | Former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty during a Chicago federal court hearing Wednesday morning to evading federal bank reporting requirements as he withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars in hush money.
Justice Department prosecutors asked for zero to six months in prison for the Illinois Republican, but the judge is not bound by those guidelines. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 29. The 30-minute hearing leaves more questions than answers about the longtime GOP leader's misdeeds.
The May 28 indictment of Hastert details a sordid tale of the Illinois Republican paying $3.5 million of hush money in small increments to cover up “his past misconduct” against "Individual A" and seeking to conceal the acts, including lying to federal agents.
An indictment handed down in the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois in February, charged Hastert, 73, with structuring the withdrawal of $952,000 in cash in increments designed to avoid cash-reporting requirements, and lying to the FBI about his withdrawals. He allegedly told FBI agents in a December interview that he was keeping the cash because he did not feel safe with the banking system.
“Yeah … I kept the cash. That’s what I’m doing,” Hastert told the FBI, the 7-page indictment states.
From approximately 2010 to 2014, Hastert allegedly withdrew $1.7 million in cash from various bank accounts, then handed over the money to “Individual A” every six weeks. At one point, Hastert was paying $100,000 in cash every three months, lawyers revealed Wednesday.
The sparse indictment did not make clear what actions Hastert may have been trying to cover up, but did note he was a wrestling coach and teacher at Yorkville High School before serving in Congress. Multiple reports surfaced in the wake of the May 28 shocker, suggesting the past misconduct against “Individual A” may have been sexual abuse. The change-of-plea hearing marked Hastert's first court appearance since his arraignment in June, when he pleaded not guilty.
Maximum penalties for the bank fraud charge would put Hastert behind bars for five years. He could also pay fines of up to $250,000. Hastert also faces up to three years of court supervision, under sentencing guidelines.
The judge will learn more about Hastert's background and offenses, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois.
“As part of the sentencing process in this case, as in all cases, we will provide the Court with relevant information about the defendant’s background and the charged offenses, and the defendant will have an opportunity to do the same, so that the Court can impose an appropriate sentence taking into account all relevant factors in the case," the office said in a statement. "We have no further comment about the matter at this time.” Related: Hastert’s Hush Money Guilty Plea: Another Black Eye for Congress Hastert to Appear in Court This Month With Plea Agreement Sexual Allegations Follow ‘Sparse’ Indictment of Hastert Hastert Indictment Details Hush-Money Scheme (Updated) See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.