Thursday, April 07, 2016

Tribune Identifies At Least Four Men Former House Speaker Sexually Abused As Boys

Dennis Hastert (left) and Stephen Reinboldt (right), one of Hastert's victims
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert is pleading with a federal district court judge to show mercy on him for violating federal currency rules by structuring cash payments totaling $1.7 million to a man he had once sexually abused as a boy while he was teaching and coaching high school wrestling at Yorkville High School and permit him to avoid jail time. A sentencing hearing has been repeatedly delayed due to Hastert's declining health after he suffered a stroke. The Chicago Tribune has now found evidence of at least four boys Hastert sexually abused at Yorkville High before he launched his long, successful career in politics. One of those victims may testify at Hastert's sentencing hearing, even though the charges for which he had pleaded guilty have nothing to do with sexual abuse.

The story of how Hastert began making hush payments to one of his victims is not pretty. The man is a middle-aged husband and father who has struggled emotionally. Hastert coached him in high school where he was a student leader. The victim went on to college, graduated and used Hastert as a reference for his first job. He later had trouble holding down jobs due to anxiety disorder. He fell deeply into debt. He later returned to work but experienced more trouble when he was arrested for drunk driving. By 2010, he had been forced to leave his job because of health-related problems. He was eventually terminated from his job after never returning to work. This became the impetus for him to reach out to Hastert and seek financial compensation for the sexual abuse he claimed to have suffered at his hands as a high school student.

Hastert reached an agreement to begin making payments to the victim in June 2010. Hastert had paid $1.7 million of an agreed upon $3.5 million by the time authorities learned of the arrangement, which happened in an unlikely manner. A sheriff's deputy found the victim pulled over in a van with a broken window alongside the road. Inside the van the victim had $24,000 in $100 bills in white envelopes and marijuana. He faced misdemeanor charges for the marijuana possession, and he lied about the source of the money. He claimed his only income was from disability and his wife's job. He claimed the money in the van was for a boat he planned to buy. It's not clear how the authorities connected the money found in the victim's van to Hastert.

A second victim was previously identified as Stephen Reinboldt, who had graduated from Hastert's school in 1971. He had served as the wrestling team's equipment manager all during high school and had confided to his sister in 1981 that he had been involved in a sexual relationship with Hastert throughout his years in high school. Reinboldt's sister, Jolene Burdge, asked her brother why he never reported Hastert. He told her that nobody would have believed him because of the respect Hastert commanded in the community. She knew he was right. Reinboldt had gone off to college and pursued a career in acting out in L.A. Reinboldt died from AIDS in 1995 at the age of 42. Hastert attended his funeral. When he left the funeral home, she followed Hastert to the parking lot and confronted him about his relationship with her brother. "He just stood there and stared at me, stone-faced,"Burdge said. "Then I went on to say, 'The secret didn't die in there with (my brother), and I want you to know, I know.' He just looked at me and turned around and went to his car. It was silence then and silence now."

The Tribune says Burdge later tried to tell her story to the media when Hastert became Speaker of the House but nobody in the media would take her story seriously. That's not entirely true. Investigative journalist Wayne Madsen chased down the story and reported on it at the time. His reporting was summarily dismissed and heavily condemned by the mainstream media, which went out of its way to protect Hastert. I worked with Hastert as a legislative staffer for the Illinois House Republican Staff when he was a state lawmaker. I always thought it was odd that he quit his teaching job at Yorkville High when he became a state lawmaker since other teacher-lawmakers continued holding down their teaching jobs while serving in the legislature. There were rumors of him being gay and having messed around with boys, but I tended to attribute those rumors to political innuendo and the fact he had been a wrestling coach, which many people wrongly assume is strictly a gay sport. Hastert and his wife, a girls gym teacher at the same school, raised two sons together, and they sometimes came down to Springfield when the legislature was in session to visit him.

The Chicago Tribune spoke to a third victim, who wished not to be identified at this time, although he might testify at Hastert's sentencing hearing. The Tribune says he grew up to be a very successful businessman and is married with children. Hastert's alleged sexual misconduct with this individual occurred shortly before Hastert was elected to the Illinois legislature according to The Tribune. It is because of what this individual told federal authorities that led the judge handling Hastert's sentencing to say on the record for the first time that the case against Hastert was about child sexual abuse. Judge Thomas Durkin will allow this victim to either appear in court to read a victim impact statement or keep his identity under seal in court records. The Tribune has been unable to identify the name of the fourth victim who spoke to federal investigators about being sexually abused by Hastert.

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