J. Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, was paying a man to not say publicly that Hastert had sexually abused him decades ago, according to two people briefed on the evidence uncovered in an FBI investigation into the payments.
Federal prosecutors on Thursday announced the indictment of Hastert on allegations that he made cash withdrawals designed to hide those payments and for lying to federal authorities about the purpose of the withdrawals.
The man — who was not identified in court papers — told the FBI that he had been inappropriately touched by Hastert when Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach, the two people said Friday. The people briefed on the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing a federal investigation.
The FBI declined to comment.
It was not clear when the alleged behavior occurred. But according to court documents, Hastert was a high school teacher and coach in Yorkville, Illinois, from 1965 to 1981. The FBI was not able to substantiate the allegations beyond the man’s statements.
Federal authorities unsealed an indictment of Hastert on Thursday, although it skirted the issue of what Hastert had done to the man that led to the payments.
The indictment said that in 2010, the man met with Hastert several times, and that at one of those meetings Hastert agreed to pay him $3.5 million “in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against” the man.
The indictment stunned Hastert’s friends and former Capitol Hill colleagues, who said Friday morning that they were struggling to make sense of the federal charges against him.
“In my dealings with Denny, he was always straight up, aboveboard and never even close to crossing the line on anything,” said Tom Davis, who represented Virginia as a Republican House member.
The indictment said Hastert was structuring the cash withdrawals in increments designed to avoid bank reporting requirements. Federal prosecutors said in the indictment that Hastert, 73, had made cash withdrawals from banks in a way that was designed to hide that he was paying the person a total of $3.5 million. The indictment said that Hastert had made $1.7 million in payments so far.
The indictment also said Hastert, a Republican who served as speaker from 1999 to 2007, had lied to the FBI about the transactions.
Yorkville is about 50 miles southwest of Chicago. The indictment, announced by the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, said the recipient of the payments was from Yorkville and had known Hastert.
The allegations against a man who was once one of the most powerful people in Washington has left lobbyists, lawmakers, veteran Capitol Hill staff members and others to speculate about what Hastert, who for eight years was second in line to the presidency, might have done to the person identified only as “Individual A” in the indictment.
One former colleague of Hastert’s described himself as genuinely mystified by the indictment and said he had spent much of Thursday evening talking with many of the former speaker’s Washington friends, who shared his bewilderment.
Davis, who served in the House for 14 years, said, “I think we are all shocked by this.”
Kim Nerheim, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said Friday that Hastert’s case had been assigned to Judge Thomas M. Durkin of U.S. District Court, who will schedule an arraignment for the former speaker, perhaps as early as next week.
Durkin, a former prosecutor and white-collar criminal defense lawyer who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2012, will accept a plea from Hastert and set the calendar for the case, Nerheim said.
Hastert, who has been a lobbyist since leaving Congress, could not be reached for comment at his office in Washington. Nerheim said Friday that there was no lawyer of record for Hastert.
A statement released Friday by the Yorkville Community Unit School District confirmed that Hastert had worked for the district from 1965 to 1981, but said that officials there first learned of concerns about him when the indictment was released on Thursday.
George Dyche of Aurora, Illinois, a coach who competed against Hastert’s team for years and worked closely with him to develop Illinois’ state wrestling association, said he had fielded four calls from other friends from the wrestling community Friday.
“They are all stunned at the news. They all say, ‘Are they talking about OUR Denny?’”
Dyche said Hastert helped build the sport in his home state, was president of the wrestling association, and started a state wrestling newspaper called The Word in the 1970s. Hastert still regularly attends the NCAA Big Ten wrestling championships, said Dyche, who said he saw him there this year.
“He was a quiet guy in the corner, not a yelling, screaming coach, very pragmatic, cool under fire,” said Dyche, who called Hastert an excellent coach. “I would go up after losing to him and say ‘Damn it, you did it again. I know what your kids are going to do, but my kids still couldn’t stop them.’”
Dyche said Hastert “ruled his program with a calm but firm hand. He was extremely successful and respected.”
He added: “This is a stunning revelation. Of all the people in the world, it’s not the Denny Hastert I know. He was a man of character, a pillar in the community.”