Sentencing

'Serial Child Molester' Dennis Hastert Gets 15 Months for Something That Shouldn't Be Illegal

The former speaker of the House can no longer be prosecuted for his real crimes.

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Last week former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison, ostensibly for a single count of evading the Bank Secrecy Act's reporting requirements by withdrawing money in amounts below $10,000. I say "ostensibly" because Hastert's real crimes were committed decades ago, when (as he now admits) he sexually abused teenagers on the wrestling team he coached in Illinois. But since the statute of limitations for those crimes has expired, it is only the coverup for which Hastert can legally be punished—specifically, for paying hush money to one of his victims in a way designed to avoid the government's attention. That "structuring" charge became a pretext for giving Hastert a taste of the punishment he might have received if his sexual abuse had come to light sooner.

"Because the statute of limitations for your child molestation ran out many years ago," U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin observed during the sentencing hearing, "you can't be charged for that. It's not what you were charged with, it's not what you've pled guilty to, and any sentence I give you today will pale in comparison to what you would have faced in state court."

Still, the penalty that Durkin imposed far exceeds the zero to six months recommended by federal sentencing guidelines and the maximum sentence (six months) that prosecutors agreed to seek under their plea deal with Hastert. The reasons that Durkin gave for departing upward from the guideline sentence and the one recommended by the government—something he said he has done in only two out of 45 cases he has overseen in his three and a half years as a federal judge—have a lot to do with the crimes that Hastert officially got away with.

"Were this only a case about structuring of funds which were legally obtained and taxed," Durkin noted, "there is some question whether the prosecution would have occurred. And even if the prosecution had occurred, a sentence of probation would likely be appropriate." Hastert's lawyers asked for probation, which is the usual outcome in structuring cases involving defendants who earned the money legally, paid taxes on it, and used it for legal purposes, especially when the defendant has no criminal history. Between 2010 and 2014, according to data that Durkin obtained from the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 66 structuring defendants fit that description, and only seven received sentences involving incarceration, with an average term of four months. 

So why did Hastert get 15 months? Mostly because of crimes for which he cannot be prosecuted.

One of Hastert's victims and the sister of another (who died in 1995) testified at the hearing, during which Durkin repeatedly called Hastert a "serial child molester." The judge nevertheless insisted he was not punishing Hastert for sexually abusing high school students. Rather, Durkin said, he was taking into account the way that Hastert's sexual abuse of high school students reflects on his character and his motive for violating the Bank Secrecy Act—a pretty fine distinction. 

"If I am going to consider the good history and characteristics of the defendant, I must also consider the bad, which is that the defendant is a serial child molester," Durkin said. "And the nature and circumstances of the offense include the child molestation because it was unquestionably the motive for the structuring and the lies that followed it."

Durkin said those lies also figured into Hastert's punishment, since he told the FBI the former student he was paying (who received $1.7 million of a promised $3.5 million) had fabricated his allegation of sexual abuse. Lying to the FBI is itself a felony, although not one to which Hastert pleaded guilty. "Accusing Victim A of extorting you was unconscionable," the judge told Hastert. "You tried to set him up. You tried to frame him." But even here, Durkin made note of the crimes for which Hastert can no longer be prosecuted. "He was a victim once decades ago," the judge said of the former wrestler, "and you tried to make him a victim again."

Durkin reserved most of his ire not for Hastert's recent violations of federal law—the ones for which he was officially being sentenced—but for his unpunished (and unpunishable) state crimes:

Some actions can obliterate a lifetime of good works. Nothing is more stunning than having the words "serial child molester" and "speaker of the House" in the same sentence. Nothing is more disturbing than having the words "child molester" and "coach" and "teacher" in the same sentence….

Your actions with the young people you abused violated the trust that students put in their teachers, their coaches, and their mentors. Your actions were cynical. You abused those who either wouldn't or couldn't cry out for fear they would not be believed and were trying to discredit a beloved coach, or for fear they would be ostracized by their friends….

Had this conduct been uncovered near the time when it occurred, a grand jury sitting in Kendall County would have indicted you, a jury likely would have convicted you, and you likely would have been sentenced to decades in a state prison….

This conduct is relevant to your history and characteristics no matter how old it is. Some conduct is unforgivable no matter how old it is….

My sentence today can't legally or properly be a sentence for child molestation, and I don't want it in any way to be perceived that the sentence here measures the harm caused by the child molestation. In the end, that would have to be a state court judge sentencing you for a conviction of child molestation, and the sentence in this case can never be as long as the time the victims and their families have suffered.

As Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago, told The New York Times, "It's extraordinary that the case was on its face a cut-and-dried financial structuring case with the conduct acknowledged, but the sentencing was about everything, essentially, but the structuring." Legally, Durkin had the discretion to give Hastert a sentence as long as five years, and he said he would have imposed a term longer than 15 months if it weren't for Hastert's age and poor health. As Durkin noted, even five years is a fraction of the sentence Hastert probably would have received had he been convicted of sexual abuse in state court.

But Hastert wasn't convicted of sexual abuse, and that is no small matter for those of us who believe in due process and the rule of law. Instead he was convicted of something that should not be a crime at all—taking his own money out of his own bank account in amounts the federal government deemed insufficiently large.

"There should be no mistake that what the defendant did regarding the structuring laws was a crime," Durkin said. "It doesn't matter that it was his money, that it was lawfully earned, and it was properly taxed. The legislative history of the law, which I have reviewed, makes clear that the Congress intended the law to apply to your situation. There's no intent by Congress to draw a distinction between structuring where the money was derived from illegal transactions and schemes and money based on legitimately earned funds. The courts have held that intentional violations of the reporting requirements constitute criminal conduct regardless of the core legality of the money at issue." That law—which, Durkin notes, Hastert "had some role in passing" as a member of Congress—remains a moral scandal, even if it occasionally provides the means for punishing actual criminals who would otherwise escape justice.

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95 responses to “'Serial Child Molester' Dennis Hastert Gets 15 Months for Something That Shouldn't Be Illegal

  1. “It’s extraordinary that the case was on its face a cut-and-dried financial structuring case with the conduct acknowledged, but the sentencing was about everything, essentially, but the structuring.”

    But — did he show *remorse*?

    For the “structuring”, that is?

    1. Damn, there must not be much ‘bank secrecy’ in the Bank Secrecy Law – unless t’s intended to do away with the secrecy.

      Deposit or withdraw more than $10k, and the Feds have to look at it because you might be a criminal. Deposit or withdraw less than $10k, and the Feds have to look at it because you might be a criminal trying to evade the reporting requirement.

  2. Glad reason finally pointed this out.

    Some of us have been mentioning it since last week…

  3. In the past twenty years, the US has had a president who is clearly a serial rapist and a speaker of the House who is a serial child molester. The two most likely candidates to win the presidency are the corrupt and incompetent sociopath who provided cover for the serial rapist and an egomaniac who spouts nonsense.

    Yet, for some reason, people still have faith in big government as long as it is run by democratically elected leaders.

    1. “Out of 300 million people, *these* are the best candidates we can come up with?!”

      *** pulls lever for sociopathic egomaniac anyway ***

      /most of the electorate

      1. IT’S SOO IMPORTANT YOU GUYS.

      2. Trump scares me less than Hillary or Bernie. At least I may get a few of my issues enacted.

    2. To be fair, if the serial rapist and child molesters would run the government in a way I found more acceptable, I’d take it. Obviously they should be punished should the evidence be there.

    3. Clearly God allows the United States to continue to exist because we amuse Him.

  4. Q. What do you call a federal politician getting sent to prison for 15 months?

    A. A good, but slow, start.

    1. This. It’s hard to get too upset when one of the elites gets their own bullshit thrown back in their face.

      1. No tears here for the guy who worked so diligently to double the federal budget. He moved on from molesting little boys to screwing us all.

      2. Dennis demonstrated the essence of hypocrisy.

    2. You know what would be a faster start?

      1. My attorney has advised me not to say anything about woodchippers.

        1. What about meat grinders?

  5. …giving Hastert a taste of the punishment he might have received if his sexual abuse had come to light sooner.

    If he goes to gen-pop and the whack-jobs find out he’s a pederast, he still might get a pretty big taste.

    1. …he still might get a pretty big taste

      A big, 10-12 inch long taste.

    2. All the sausage he can eat. And then some.

  6. We have criminalized the transfer of your own money. Next stop: lowering the reporting limit to $1. If it saves one child’s life, it’s worth it.

    1. Don’t be an idiot. Cash is what needs to go. BAN IT.

    2. That argument works for everything!*

      *Fetuses not included.

      1. I mean, you know why Hastert was pro-life, right? Didn’t want to cut off his supply…

        1. Renewable resource.

      2. Good band name: Fetuses Not Included

        1. I assume you won’t be playing “Christian Rock”.

          Is that still a thing, by the way? Because if anything should be aborted it’s that.

          1. “Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re making rock’n’roll worse.”

            Hank Hill

            1. Quoting Hank Hill? You win the internet today.

    3. This. The idea that we must ask “mother, may I” before doing anything is obviously terribly exciting to the parasites who rule us. Jailing creeps like this twerp is simply a distraction from the real issue.

  7. Remember when they regulate every activity, it becomes impossible to comply with everything.

    Hastert may have done horrible, heinous things and now be going to take the fall for them, but in the future the horrible thing the progressives will want to lock US up for will be simply disagreeing with them. They’ll have all the regulations they need to do so.

    If Hillary wins America is doomed, if Trump wins America is screwed.

    1. “Show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.”

      -Lavrentiy Beria, head of Joseph Stalin’s secret police

    2. Hmmm, would I prefer to be doomed or screwed?

      1. Screwmed
        Screwmed
        SCREWMED

    3. I’m guessing the same folks will be in charge regardless of whether it’s Trump or Hillary in the White House.

    4. Nonsense. Neither one is as horrible ahumanbeing as, say, Woodrow Wilson. It won’t be good, but we have survived worse.

    5. I fHillary wins, it’s time for the revolution. Is this a good time to discuss my plan to euthanize the progtards?

    6. Remember that it was Nixon that signed this into law in 1970. Regan was president and signed the change to the structuring law in 1986. And least we forget it was George Bush made additions to it in the Patriot Act. Not just the left stealing your freedom and wanting to lock you up for living your life.

  8. There is so much f’ed up about this. Any rational person should contend that you should be allowed to do what you want with your legally obtained, taxed money, And most reasonable people would agree that there should NOT be a statute of limitations on child rape.
    But I pray that some will see the underlying absurdity. Here you have Hassert who in the real world was pulling down less than 100K annually as a teacher/coach and so how magically after entering politics is able to pay $3.5 million in hush money while is new annual salary is hovering around 200K.
    Where does all that extra juice come from?????

    1. Hitler?

    2. Obviously the hush money someone is paying *him*.

      1. It’s hush money all the way down.

    3. Real estate, apparently. Helps when you know what properties the feds are interested in.

    4. And most reasonable people would agree that there should NOT be a statute of limitations on child rape.

      I don’t know about that. Without a statute of limitations you could have someone who is innocent accused under similar circumstances. What possible chance would you have of mounting a defense 30 years later? How could you possible prove that you were not present on Thursday afternoon at 4:00? How could you find witnesses that undermine the testimony of your accuser?

      One might imagine that “beyond a reasonable doubt” is enough of a shield, but with icky crimes – particularly crimes against children – the bar is much, much lower. Sometimes even lower than “preponderance of the evidence”.

      The Frontline documentary “Innocence Lost” on the Little Rascals child abuse trials detailed the case against the proprietor of a day care who was accused of multiple cases of sex abuse against children. They had interviews with several jurors who said they didn’t believe any of the charges against him. But they voted to convict because there was just so much…. and they felt they had to protect the children. So he got life in prison. And this was a contemporaneous case where he had plenty of witnesses who could refute the charges.

      So maybe a statute of limitations isn’t such a terrible idea.

      1. You can say much the same thing about murder though.

        “Mr. Smith, where were you and what were you doing that night little Mary Jo was killed fifty years ago?”
        “Ummmm, you’re kidding me, right?”

        1. Yes, you could. Maybe a statute of limitations should be used for that too.

    5. And most reasonable people would agree that there should NOT be a statute of limitations on child rape.

      Why? What makes child rape special, except that it gets idiots to be even more emotional and irrational than usual? Or do you also think this applies if an adult is raped?

      The problem with having no statute of limitations is that evidence which would prove someone innocent is liable to vanish after a long period of time. I’d rather bad guys get away than have some innocent person sent to prison.

  9. I know Sullum didn’t write the headline but it can easily misconstrued as advocating that being a “Serial Child Molester” not being a crime.

    1. “Old Man With Candy caressed hardest”

    2. I think it’s OK. I might have left the quotes off “serial child molester”.

    3. Agreed. Seemed like an odd way to click bait.

    4. Agreed. For a second there when I read the headline, I thought maybe Sullum was maybe outing himself as a NAMBLA member or something.

    5. Yeah, I’m not sure why in the world that’s in mock scare quotes when he freely admitted to molesting six children.

    6. I figure someone on MSNBC will quote this headline to prove that libertarians are the worst and don’t think child rape is a crime.

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  12. “Rather, Durkin said, he was taking into account the way that Hastert’s sexual abuse of high school students reflects on his character and his motive for violating the Bank Secrecy Act?a pretty fine distinction.”

    There is an important difference between determining guilt and sentencing. Things that shouldn’t be considered to determine guilt, like prior convictions, are appropriate to consider during sentencing.

    There really shouldn’t be a question about whether Hastert deserves our sympathy. He doesn’t deserve our sympathy, but questions of justice shouldn’t depend on that. This isn’t about the rights of child molesters; it’s about our rights. No one should be sentenced for crimes for which they weren’t convicted–and Hastert wasn’t even tried for child molestation.

    1. ^ This. It’s a fine example of “social” justice.

    2. The prosecution and judge both explicitly stated that they wanted a harsh sentence to send a message of deterrence to child molesters.

      The legal community should be up in arms over this. They aren’t, and they won’t be. But they should be at def-con 5.

      The counter argument has been on the order of “he deserves worse”. Which is a pretty lame argument. Not that he doesn’t deserve worse. Just that this isn’t a valid argument.

      What if we decide we want to deter deviant perverts who frequent prostitutes? Could we appropriate asset forfeiture laws that were intended for drug lords? Or if we wanted to deter tweens from sending sexually explicit photos and messages to each other – could we appropriate sex offender laws designed to prosecute pedophiles who create child pornography?

      Or could we use banking regulations to attack people who engage in icky activities that we don’t approve of – like creating pornography or selling guns?

      Look, I realize that all you folks in the legal profession know what’s best and you all respect the law above everything else and would never allow it to be abused….. but could you just humor us proles and try to follow the law, even when icky, nasty child molesters are involved? I know there’s no such thing as the slippery slope…. but we really don’t need folks thinking that parking enforcement might be used to intimidate political opponents.

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    1. White? What a shitty color for a car like that.

  14. “‘Accusing Victim A of extorting you was unconscionable,’ the judge told Hastert.”

    In what way were these *not* blackmail payments?

    1. Hamster is a piece of shit, but how else should he have described it?

  15. The real question is why child rape, one of the worst crimes in the world, has a statute of limitations at all. Many of the victims of this heinous act are negatively affected by it for the rest of their lives.

    1. This. If it takes a rape victim 40/50/100 years to work up the courage to finger the rapist, if the evidence is there, it should not matter how long ago it happened. Why a rapist gets a get-out-of-jail card when some arbitrary time period passes is beyond me.

      1. to work up the courage to finger the rapist

        WTF?

      2. I agree. I am not moved to tears by Hastert’s fate.

    2. See Cyto’s comment above.

  16. Nothing is more stunning than having the words “honest” and “speaker of the House” in the same sentence.

    1. Oh hell. You know what my brain came up with after reading that?

      “Speaker of the house, keeper of the charm, ready with a handshake and an open arm…”

  17. The legislative history of the law, which I have reviewed, makes clear that the Congress intended the law to apply to your situation. There’s no intent by Congress to draw a distinction between structuring where the money was derived from illegal transactions and schemes and money based on legitimately earned funds.

    I’m sure nothing about that was discussed openly when the legislation was passed. Do you think elected representatives would’ve wanted to have on the record a statement like, “We foresee that this law could apply to persons who have no intention to break any other law with that money, and will be made criminals solely by its provisions, but we’re going to leave it that way anyway, because any medicine has some bad side effects.”? No, I’m sure they sold it entirely as a weapon against organized crime & tax cheats. So legislators’ silence on the matter is now taken as confirmation that the law was intended to make no exceptions for good faith, and hence could be used to sweep up anyone who deals in a cash business but wants to do banking regularly.

  18. It is shocking and a joke that “structuring” is a fucking crime worthy of jail time in a “freedom-loving” country (a meaningless platitude that I’m sure Hastert repeated countless times).

    On top of that, the $10K value was arbitrarily decided back in 1986 and not linked for some reason to inflation ($10K in 1986 is roughly $21K today).

    1. The fact that moving less than that arbitrarily determined amount is a crime kind of makes the lack of indexing helpful. As inflation eats into that number, fewer transactions will come in under the number.

      Of course, once it falls into the few thousands, everyone will be a potential target for “structuring”, since most people have to move a few thousand every month for things like rent, car payments, mortgage, etc. So if moving 75% of the number gets you tagged for targeting, I suppose we’ll all be moving that much on a regular basis in another decade or so.

      So they won’t need all those other obscure laws – this one will be a convenient catch-all!

    2. Technical crimes make it easier to convict. Why go through the trouble of proving a real crime. Go to jail if you withdraw under $10,000, you’re a drug dealer if you possess more than an ounce of drugs, … It is for the good of the children that we don’t let such people walk free.

    3. It does seem pretty fucking weird to me… The government sets an arbitrary limit, and you get charged with a crime if you purposely go below that limit??

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  20. I agree with the sentiment of the article, but it leaves out the fact that Hastert is the one who championed this legislation in the first place.

    As long as the only people found guilty by this law are the individuals that voted in favor of it, then there is no problem.

  21. If he had just withdrawn the ten grand in cash, then there would be a record, and what? It’s not illegal to withdraw your money from the bank.

    -jcr

    1. You have to show a legitimate reason for withdrawing your own money. One day you might need a federal permit to make a bank withdrawal.

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  23. This is essentially the same “justice” OJ got… the “we couldn’t get you for what we wanted to get you for so now we are going to overblow this charge”.

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  26. In America If we can’t charge you with a crime we will make up a crime to charge you with. See how that works. If your going to have minimum sentencing laws then the law should also follow the maximum sentencing laws.

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  28. They should seriously reconsider the wording of this title as it implies prima facie that serial child molestation shouldn’t be illegal. Again I’m speaking strictly of the title, not the article itself.

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  33. “If I am going to consider the good history and characteristics of the defendant, I must also consider the bad, which is that the defendant is a serial child molester,”

    but in the eyes of the law, he wasn’t a child molester. i’m not sure it’s a good sign when judges start factoring in crimes that haven’t been proven in a court of law, even if the proof he actually did something horrible is pretty convincing.

  34. don’t get me wrong. so long as it’s a crime -even though it shouldn’t be obviously- i would’ve charged him with it. it might be a stupid law, but it’s hardly immoral, and i tend to think you fight evil with the tools you have because people like that already have an unfair advantage.

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