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Former U.S. Speaker apologizes for past ‘transgressions,’ lawyer says

A lawyer for J. Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the House who is awaiting sentencing for a federal banking violation, said Saturday that his client acknowledged committing “transgressions” decades ago as a high school teacher and wrestling coach, but again stopped short of detailing those misdeeds.

The statement from the lawyer, Thomas Green, came a day after federal prosecutors provided details of sexual abuse Hastert allegedly committed while coaching in Yorkville, Illinois, in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. The prosecutors outlined a series of lewd encounters between Hastert and teenage boys in the high school locker room and a motel room, staining the legacy of a Republican Party stalwart who served as House speaker from 1999 until 2007.

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

Hastert pleaded guilty in October to illegally structuring bank withdrawals, and prosecutors said at the time that he was using the funds to pay “hush money” for misconduct from years past. Though sources had said the misconduct involved sexual abuse, prosecutors did not publicly confirm that until Friday, when they said the educator-turned-politician’s life had been “marred by stunning hypocrisy” and that he should receive a sentence that took into account his past actions.

In that court filing, prosecutors said Hastert’s odd banking habits had come to investigators’ attention after a series of withdrawals that appeared structured to avoid federal reporting rules. When confronted in 2014, Hastert initially said he was just wary of banks, but his lawyers later claimed he was being extorted.

When investigators listened to calls between Hastert and the man he claimed was extorting him, they said they detected no threats and instead came to believe that Hastert was making payments on an agreed-to settlement of up to $3.5-million. Hastert was indicted in May and has remained free on bail.

Prosecutors said the man receiving the payments, named in court records only as Individual A, was not committing extortion, and that Hastert had molested Individual A and shared a bed with him on a trip to a wrestling camp.

Hastert, who is 74 and recovering from a stroke, is set to be sentenced this month in Chicago. He has not been charged with any sex crimes, because statutes of limitations expired long ago. Prosecutors have asked that he face up to six months in prison; Hastert’s lawyers have asked for probation.

Outside of brief court appearances, Hastert has not spoken publicly about his conduct, and he has stayed largely out of view. In his statement Saturday, Green reiterated that Hastert was physically ailing and had been humiliated by the attention to his misconduct.

“He accepts responsibility for his conduct, seeks no special consideration and is prepared to receive the court’s sentence,” Green said.

Source: The Globe and Mail

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