For months, federal authorities have hinted at the motive behind the hush-money payments former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has admitted to making: the sexual abuse of a teenage boy when Hastert was still a suburban high school teacher and wrestling coach.
But now, investigation has uncovered new details of the case — at least four people have made what law enforcement sources say are credible allegations of sexual abuse against Hastert.
The Tribune has determined the identities of three of them, all men, whose allegations stretch over a decade when they were teenagers and Hastert was their coach. One is dead. The Tribune has approached the other two — described in federal court records as Individuals A and D — and confirmed their roles in the case.
The man who received $1.7 million from Hastert and is at the center of the federal indictment — Individual A — declined to be interviewed by the Tribune. Behind the government’s carefully worded court documents, reporters discovered a sometimes-pained narrative of his life since his days as a standout wrestler in the 1970s and how his interactions with Hastert might have affected him.
Individual D has talked to the Tribune at length but has not agreed to be named, although he is considering speaking at Hastert’s sentencing in federal court April 27.
The Tribune typically does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse without their consent and is not doing so here.
Hastert is alleged to have sexually abused the teens identified by the Tribune when he was a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School in the far southwest suburbs, decades before he became the longest-serving Republican speaker. Some of the alleged conduct, which prosecutors have not detailed, might come to light this week when prosecutors are expected to file sentencing memorandums.
One of the alleged victims served as a team equipment manager a few years after Hastert arrived at the school in 1965. Stephen Reinboldt died of AIDS in 1995, and his younger sister has long spoken out about the details she said he shared with her while alive. Two others, who came to the school later, were talented and popular student-athletes from well-known local families — the sort of combination that often bodes well for the future. They all graduated from college.
The identity of the fourth accuser whom authorities have deemed credible remains unknown.
In a statement, Hastert attorney Tom Green did not specify any sexual abuse by his client but did say Hastert was apologetic and had suffered humiliation and shame.
“Mr. Hastert has made mistakes in judgment and committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry,” Green said. “He fully understands the gravity of his misconduct decades ago and regrets that he resorted to … an effort to prevent the disclosure of that misconduct.”
In a small town where the Tastee Freez was a gathering place for local teens, Hastert taught many siblings of the alleged victims and knew most of their parents on a first-name basis. Each of the alleged victims identified by the Tribune had their struggles. Yet they all kept quiet about their hometown’s favorite son and the inappropriate sexual contact that they alleged he had with them when they were high school students and he was in a position of trust.
Now 74 and said to be in failing health after suffering a near-fatal blood infection and stroke, Hastert has not been charged with harming a child. Such charges, according to legal experts, would be barred by statutes of limitation. Instead, Hastert pleaded guilty last year to illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank currency-reporting requirements as he pooled his money to give to Individual A as part of an agreement to keep him quiet.
It was nearly one year ago that the indictment against Hastert was unsealed. Prosecutors said only that Hastert had skirted banking laws and lied to the FBI to conceal misconduct against Individual A, who has known Hastert much of his life.
Adding to Hastert’s alleged betrayal, Individual A is a relative of one of the retired congressman’s friends.
Hastert agreed during a 2010 meeting with Individual A to pay him $3.5 million in a financial agreement sources described as more akin to an agreed out-of-court settlement rather than extortion.
The sources confirmed Individual A’s identity to the Tribune.
When Tribune reporters approached the middle-aged husband and father in February, Individual A said he didn’t want to be rude but was “not interested” in speaking publicly and walked away. His wife acknowledged that her husband was a “victim.”
As for Hastert, a man who once was two steps from the presidency, the allegations force a re-evaluation of his life, as well as his reputation. Some 50 years ago, after he had graduated from Wheaton College, Hastert began working in Yorkville, making about $5,000 a year as a high school teacher, along with a few hundred dollars a year more to coach, according to personnel records obtained by the Tribune.
Most in town would come to know “Denny,” as he was most frequently called, as the man who put Yorkville on the map by winning a 1976 state wrestling championship and bringing several other squads close to a state title. Dozens of wrestlers had great success individually as well.
Hastert was active in the community, too, as it grew during his 16 years as a civics teacher there. He drove his antique firetruck in parades, volunteered in local youth organizations and took groups of teenage boys on far-flung trips to the Bahamas for scuba diving or Canada for canoeing. His student-athletes often traveled with him to Colorado, Virginia and other destinations for wrestling camps and clinics.
As a result, Hastert had a ready-made base of support when he decided to make a run at politics in the early 1980s.
He served three terms in the Illinois legislature before being elected to the U.S. House in 1986. Hastert bestowed college scholarships and jobs on many former students and wrestlers, public records showed. He was speaker from 1999 until his retirement in 2007, then became a lobbyist.
Hastert coached Individual A in the 1970s. A student leader, Individual A graduated from college, and when he applied for his first job in the mid-1980s, he listed Hastert as a reference.
He got the job, but left a short time later because of an anxiety disorder he described at the time as devastating.
He went on to work various jobs as he and his wife raised their family but fell deeper into debt. Court records show they had significant financial problems.
Individual A returned to his original profession, but he continued to struggle, providing another possible explanation for the financial arrangement with Hastert that was soon to begin. He was convicted of misdemeanor drunken driving and was placed on 12 months’ court supervision.
By March 2010, Individual A was on leave from his job for an undisclosed medical issue. He exhausted all of his paid time off by the end of the year and was terminated in 2011 after never coming back to work.
By then, he had begun receiving payments from Hastert.
For nearly two years beginning in June 2010, Hastert made 15 cash withdrawals of $50,000 each, giving the $750,000 to Individual A at meetings about every six weeks, according to Hastert’s plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Then in April 2012, nearly two years after he had begun the withdrawals, bank officials warned Hastert such large withdrawals had to be reported to financial regulators.
So he began illegally structuring the transactions in increments of less than $10,000 to avoid the requirement. In the more than two years that followed, Hastert made a total of 106 withdrawals in sums of less than $10,000, totaling $952,000, which he gave to Individual A.
Authorities said the meetings in 2014 occurred about every three months.
In April 2014, a sheriff’s deputy on patrol after midnight found Individual A parked in his van on the side of the road. A window was broken. Soon, additional deputies were on the scene.
During a search of the van, the deputies said they found three white envelopes containing stacks of $100 bills. The cash totaled $24,400, a report on the incident said. Asked why he had so much cash, Individual A said he was planning to sell one boat and buy another. During the stop, police found marijuana and related paraphernalia, and he was placed on court supervision for the misdemeanors, the police report said.
Individual A told authorities his only sources of income were disability payments and his wife’s earnings.
By the time FBI agents questioned Hastert in December 2014 in his Plano home, he had paid Individual A about $1.7 million, or about half the amount the two had agreed on.
Soon, the investigation led agents to a former school cheerleader now living in Montana who had long alleged her dead brother was also one of Hastert’s victims.
Her brother’s keeper
Jolene Burdge, the ex-cheerleader, said one of her older brothers, Stephen Reinboldt, confided to her in the summer of 1980 that Hastert had sexual contact with him all through high school. Reinboldt, who graduated in 1971, was an equipment manager for the school’s wresting and football teams.
His allegation came during a conversation outside a Yorkville bowling alley as he told her for the first time that he was gay, she said. Burdge asked “Stevie,” as she still calls him today, about his first same-sex experience.
“He almost said it like, ‘Oh, it was Denny Hastert,'” said Burdge.
Burdge asked Reinboldt why he never spoke up. He said no one in town would have believed him.
“And I knew he was right,” she said.
A former classmate, Kevin Ross, who then went by the last name Hauge, confirmed the account, saying Reinboldt also confided in him about Hastert during Christmas break in 1974 when both were home from college. Burdge did not press her brother for specifics.
But Ross, now a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, said Reinboldt told him the first incident with Hastert began with a massage.
Reinboldt was well-known in Yorkville, his sister said. He worked at the Tastee Freez a couple of blocks from their home and was involved in school plays. Their home on Main Street, on the other hand, was filled with dysfunction. Burdge said their father was an alcoholic and often unemployed. Their mother, who struggled with mental illness, was often gone working to support the family. Both are now dead.
Burdge said Reinboldt protected her. There were the little things, like making sure she had a bathing suit in summer. And then there were the moments that haunt her still. Burdge can picture herself as a little girl, frozen in fear, as a fight between her parents broke out in their kitchen as she sat on the counter.
“He just literally danced me out of the room and got me out of danger,” she said.
Her brother saw Hastert as a mentor. Hastert was about 11 years older than Reinboldt, still single and had been teaching a few years. Hastert married his wife of more than 40 years, Jean, two years after Reinboldt graduated.
Burdge said her brother left Yorkville right after graduation, and he never looked back. He graduated from the University of Illinois and moved to Los Angeles to try to make it in film production. He died of AIDS in August 1995 at age 42. She was at his side in an LA hospice.
Burdge said Hastert came to the visitation in Yorkville. As he left, Burdge chased him down in the parking lot. She asked Hastert why “you did what you did” to her brother.
“He just stood there and stared at me, stone-faced,” she 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.”
A decade passed in which Burdge said she watched as Hastert gathered power in Congress. She first tried to speak out publicly in 2006, after Hastert and other top Republicans drew criticism for their handling of a scandal involving improper advances by then-Rep. Mark Foley of Florida toward underage male pages. She said she contacted various media outlets and two prominent victim advocates but got nowhere.
It would take nearly another decade before anyone in authority listened.
Shortly before Hastert’s indictment, Burdge said, authorities met with her to learn more about her brother’s story. Burdge said officials found her through an old high school classmate — a man who also is friends with Individual A.
That friend had seen Burdge confront Hastert.
Now, Burdge’s journey is set to finally end at Hastert’s sentencing, when she will stand before him to read a victim-impact statement.
Tribune reporters spent 10 months contacting scores of athletes and students coached and taught by Hastert. The Tribune approached some in person to ask about their time with Hastert. Several still live in the Fox Valley. Reporters sent follow-up letters and emails to many.
The man whom prosecutors recently publicly described as Individual D has spoken privately with the Tribune in a quest to learn more about the scope of the case.
The alleged misconduct against Individual D would have occurred late in the coach’s tenure at Yorkville High School. Hastert left in 1981 after he won election to the state legislature.
A few years younger than Individual A, Individual D was a popular student and good athlete. He grew up to marry, have children and become a successful businessman. Prosecutors have said his decision to recently come forward has been a difficult one, and they have offered him the option of keeping his identity under seal in court records or appearing in court to read a victim-impact statement.
Prosecutors have recommended a sentence for Hastert ranging from probation to up to six months behind bars — the lowest possible sentence under federal guidelines for anyone convicted of a felony. U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin has noted that he is free to sentence Hastert to as long as five years in prison. Although the case has been shrouded in secrecy, the judge acknowledged for the first time during an unannounced court hearing last month about Individual D that it involved allegations of sexual abuse.
“If Individual D wants to come in and talk about being a victim of sexual abuse, he’s entitled to do so because that informs my decision about the history and characteristics of the defendant,” Durkin said in a mostly empty courtroom, according to a transcript of the late March hearing obtained by the Tribune. “It’s that simple.”
It was the second time in a week the judge had held a hearing in the case without any public disclosure in advance. The hearing became known only after Durkin posted an order announcing Hastert’s sentencing date had been pushed back to accommodate Individual D’s schedule, should he appear for the sentencing.
Hastert’s attorneys, at least preliminarily, said they didn’t plan to contest any facts alleged by Individual D, according to the transcript.
With the sentencing hearing looming, a source said Hastert called one of Individual D’s relatives, hoping to get a letter to show Hastert had done good things with his life; that letter could help persuade Durkin to give Hastert a more lenient sentence.
Individual D then made a call of his own. He told federal authorities he would prepare a statement to be used in court detailing what Hastert did to him.
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