Dennis Hastert pleads guilty in hush-money case; plea deal recommends up to 6 months

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, 73, pleaded guilty Wednesday to lying to the FBI in a hush-money scheme. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors recommended he sentenced to probation or less than six months in prison.

However, the judge will ultimately decide Hastert's sentence. The charge of evading currency reporting requirements carries up maximum 5-year prison sentence, $250,000 fine and three-years of supervised release.

Hastert is scheduled to be sentenced on February 29, 2016. The Illinois Republican made no comment as he left the Dirksen Federal Courthouse and said little during the 20 minute court appearance.

"Hastert agreed to provide 'Individual A' $3.5 million in order to compensate for and keep confidential his prior misconduct against Individual A," prosecutors said during court. Hastert had paid about half that amount before being indicted.

"Individual A" was not identified nor was the "prior misconduct" outlined in court. Sources have said the payments were meant to hide allegations of sexual misconduct decades ago when Hastert was a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School.

It's an allegation that Jolene Burdge said she first heard in 1979 when her brother, Steve Reinboldt, told her he was sexually assaulted by Hastert in high school. Reinboldt was the wrestling team manager at Yorkville.

Reinboldt is not "Individual A"; he died of AIDS in 1995. Burdge spoke exclusively with ABC's Brian Ross.

"I think he got a pass today. He was able to cut a backroom deal and do whatever people in power do to cover up their crimes," Burdge said. "I think it's unfair because he gets a pass and his victims didn't get a pass. They didn't get a choice.

Hastert has not addressed the allegations of sexual abuse, but prosecutors could bring it up at sentencing.

"If it's part of the case and the government thinks it can put forth evidence in front of a judge that is credible, they'll do that," Tinos Dimantatos, a former prosecutor, said.

HASTERT DIDN'T WANT FBI TO KNOW WHERE MONEY WAS GOING

On Wednesday, Hastert pleaded guilty to a banking charge. He admitted intentionally withdrawing money in a way to skirt federal authorities.

Hastert made 106 separate withdrawals of just less than $10,000, the amount that requires bank officials be notified. The amount of withdrawals drew the attention of the FBI and they stopped after FBI agents questioned Hastert on Dec. 8, 2014, according to the indictment.

"I didn't want them to know how I intended to spend the money," Hastert said in a halting voice during the court appearance Wednesday.

The judge asked Hastert, "Did you know that what you were doing was wrong?"

He responded, "Yes, sir."

The U.S. Attorney's office released this statement Wednesday:

"Now that Mr. Hastert has pled guilty, and the Court has accepted his guilty plea, the case will proceed to sentencing. As part of the sentencing process in this case, as in all cases, we will provide the Court with relevant information about the defendant's background and the charged offenses, and the defendant will have an opportunity to do the same, so that the Court can impose an appropriate sentence taking into account all relevant factors in the case. We have no further comment about the matter at this time."

The change-of-plea hearing was the longtime GOP leader's first court appearance since his arraignment in June, when he pleaded not guilty in the same courtroom in Chicago.

The plea helped seal the downfall of a man who rose from obscurity in rural Illinois to the nation's third-highest political office.

Hastert was speaker for eight years - longer than any other Republican. He also parlayed his connections into a lucrative lobbying career after leaving Congress in 2007. That career is almost certainly over.

As a convicted felon, "no congressman will want to meet with him about anything. His influence and power will be gone," said Dick Simpson, a co-author of "Corrupt Illinois: Patronage, Cronyism, and Criminality."

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