Dennis Hastert may be better known among millennials for his criminal record than his political career. Once the top-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, on Wednesday, Hastert became the first former House speaker to be incarcerated since the 19th Century, beginning his 15-month sentence for covering up hush money transactions to an alleged sex abuse victim of his from the 1970s.
The case seems like something out of a crime novel. The powerful politician carried a dark secret of a past of sexually abuse allegations during his time as a coach in the 1960s and 1970s, and this came to light when he began making large withdrawals from his bank account. Initially thought to be the victim of extortion (due largely to claims he made to investigators to that effect), it soon became clear to FBI agents investigating Hastert that the money was not for blackmail, but to hush up a man whom he allegedly abused. The strangest part about the case, however, was that the actual crime Hastert was convicted of and is going to jail for was "structuring" his withdrawals, or making withdrawals "just small enough to avoid having to report them."
Still, U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin took the sexual abuse allegations against the former Illinois congressman very seriously, referring to Hastert as a "serial child molester" following testimony from multiple victims and family members. Hastert's 15-month sentence was higher than what federal prosecutors suggested (zero to six months), and Durkin also ordered him to complete a sex offender treatment program.
Durkin rejected Hastert's probation plea (though he did suggest that he serve his sentence at a Minnesota prison affiliated with the Mayo Clinic to aid the former House speaker's ailing health), and his decision statement unequivocally expressed his desire to not treat Hastert differently due to his former office:
Positions of power and respect do not insulate a person from being held accountable for violations of the law ... 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.
Chicago Tribune writer Christy Gutowski described in detail what Hastert will face when he first reports to prison. He can only keep a few personal items, will be strip-searched upon entering the premises, can talk on the phone "up to 300 minutes per month," will have no access to a cell phone or the internet, and will be on a strict schedule.