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J. Dennis Hastert, a Bad Man Caught by a Bad Law

2015-06-09

Here’s a story that will warm the hearts of Democrats and left-wing ideologues: J. Dennis Hastert, now 73  years old, who was speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, was indicted in Chicago on federal charges of “structuring” and lying to FBI agents.  He is accused of making withdrawals from his bank accounts of less than $10,000 to avoid having to make specific reports about those withdrawals.  In the case in which he is charged, he made 106 such withdrawals, all for the purpose of payments to one individual, and all apparently for the purpose of preventing that person from publicly making statements about their relationship when Mr. Hastert was a high school wrestling coach in central Illinois from 1965 to 1981.   The relationship apparently involved “sexual abuse”, a crime because the individual was under eighteen years old at the time; the statute of limitations has long passed.

Mr. Hastert was the standard-bearer for the Republican Party and second in line, behind the vice president, in the succession to president in case of death or infirmity.  Some Democrats found his positions and behavior to be unfriendly and unsportsmanlike, while others were able to work with him.  In any case, there was no scandal surrounding him while he was Speaker.  After leaving Congress, he naturally became a lobbyist and was expected to take home two or more times as much money as he did while in Congress.

Unfortunately, an indictment was released on May 28; he was not taken into custody because he was “not considered a flight risk.”   However, the charges are potentially serious; he could be fined $250,000 and face five years in prison on each of the two counts.   In the indictment, it is stated that Mr. Hastert has paid $1.7 million over the last four years to “Individual A” as part of an agreement in which he has promised to pay a total of $3.5 million.

Anonymous individuals who have been “briefed” about the FBI investigation have said that the agreement is the end result of a relationship in which Mr. Hastert “sexually abused” Individual A while Mr. Hastert was a wrestling coach and teacher in Yorkville, a suburb 50 miles from Chicago. The agreement stipulates that Mr. Hastert is to pay a total of $3.5 million in exchange for Individual A’s silence about the relationship, or more properly, repeated episodes of sexual abuse.   This relationship must have been concluded at least 30 years ago.

The judge who is currently handling the case is  Thomas M. Durkin of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  Judge Durkin donated $1,500 to Mr. Hastert’s campaigns years ago before he became a judge.  The judge’s brother is Republican leader of the House for the Illinois State Legislature.  The judge has refused to comment on the case, in particular on whether he will recuse himself.

Mr. Hastert’s Washington lobbying outfit, Dickstein Shapiro, announced that he was resigning shortly after the indictment was announced.  In addition, the  CME Group of Chicago, a company which runs futures and derivatives exchanges, announced Mr. Hastert’s resignation from its board.  Mr. Hastert also saw his name removed from his alma mater Wheaton College at their “J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy.”

One of Mr. Hastert’s former students took his sister into his confidence in about 1979 and told her that he was gay.  He died of AIDS in 1995.  At the same time he came out to his sister, he told her that, when he had been the wrestling team’s equipment manager, Mr. Hastert (his wrestling coach) had “sexually abused” him.  The sister said she did not know Individual A, and he wasn’t her brother.

According to the bank, Mr. Hastert had started making withdrawals of $50,000 in cash every six weeks in 2010.  After the bank, which is required to file “transaction reports” with the feds for every cash transaction over $10,000, questioned Mr. Hastert, he began making smaller withdrawals, and made a total of 106 such withdrawals.  The law, which makes it a crime to “structure” withdrawals and deposits so as to evade the reporting requirements, has been used against completely innocent individuals who, for example, had saved large amounts of cash through tips and were depositing it in the bank, and who, being unable to physically carry a full $10,000 in small bills on their person, had made multiple smaller deposits.  The law is written so that the prosecutor can confiscate the money without having to prove anything and the individual is forced to hire a lawyer to prove his/her innocence, a case of “guilty until proven innocent.”  In their zeal to protect the public against criminals who want to launder their money, the prosecutors have dragged in many people who are completely blameless, and in typical prosecutor fashion, they refuse to believe perfectly reasonable explanations for the “structuring”; the way the law is written, it is a license for prosecutorial misconduct.

In addition to “structuring”, Mr. Hastert is accused of one count of lying to an FBI agent.  When initially interviewed by the FBI, Mr. Hastert had made a statement to the effect that he didn’t trust banks and was withdrawing the money to keep at home.  This turned out not to be true; in fact, he was making cash payments to Individual A.

J. Dennis Hastert is a bad guy; he pushed for laws that were retrogressive, Republican-inspired, and served the purposes of one of our nation’s less memorable presidents, George W. Bush.  He also, it seems, was a homosexual abuser of minors in his care (whether that represented pedophilia is open to question.)  Finally, he used his position as a leader in Congress to transition to a very highly paid job in which he could trade on his influence with his former colleagues.  To see him be stripped of his powerful positions is a good thing.

However, the law which was used against him is a bad law which has entrapped many perfectly innocent people and forced them to pay (outrageously high, by definition) legal fees just to get their money back.  So having him lose his money in this way is not a good thing, even if the end result is well deserved.

To read more details of this incident, read the story in today’s edition of the New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/10/us/politics/dennis-hastert-chicago-court-appearance-for-arraignment.html

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