CHICAGO — Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert intends to plead guilty in a hush-money case linked to allegations of sexual misconduct, a defense attorney said Thursday, a move that could ensure that any secrets from his days as a high school wrestling coach are never revealed in public.
A written plea agreement should be completed by Monday, attorney John Gallo told a federal judge during a brief status hearing. At the attorney’s request, the judge set Oct. 28 as the date for the 73-year-old Illinois Republican to change his plea.
Defendants typically agree to plead guilty in hopes of a more lenient sentence. A plea deal would also avert a trial that could divulge more about the alleged misconduct behind the criminal charges.
Neither Gallo nor prosecutors offered details about any possible deal, including which counts Hastert would plead guilty to or whether the man who was once second in the line of succession for the presidency would go to prison. Hastert did not attend Thursday’s hearing.
He faces one count of breaking banking laws and one count of lying to the FBI about agreeing to pay $3.5 million to someone referred to in the indictment only as “Individual A.” The money was supposedly to hide claims of unspecified past misconduct.
A plea deal would mean that Individual A, who has never been identified, would not have to testify about receiving any of the money. The Associated Press and other media, citing anonymous sources, have reported that the payments were meant to conceal claims of sexual misconduct.
In all, Hastert withdrew $1.7 million from 2010 to 2014, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors are probably seeking a prison sentence. It would be unusual for them to entertain the possibility of probation on such serious charges. Each count is punishable by up to five years behind bars.
When Hastert was charged in May, the indictment noted he had taught and coached high school wrestling from 1965 to 1981 in close-knit Yorkville, a suburb west of Chicago. That strongly suggests the charges are linked to that history.
Those acquainted with Hastert from his days in Yorkville have tended to express sympathy for him.
Helene McNeive, whose husband taught at Yorkville High School with Hastert and now lives in Arizona, said Thursday’s word about the plea left her feeling “very sad” for the whole Hastert family.
“From the beginning, this was not the Denny we knew,” she said. “He was a great father, a great husband and a great friend, and nobody in their wildest dreams could ever think this could have happened.”
Related allegations emerged after Hastert’s indictment. A Montana woman, Jolene Burdge, told the AP that the FBI interviewed her in May about allegations her brother had a sexual relationship with Hastert.
Her brother told her before he died in 1995 that his first homosexual contact was with Hastert and that the abuse lasted throughout high school. In an interview aired on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Burdge identified her brother as Stephen Reinboldt.