Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty today to one count related to hush money paid to allegedly cover up sexual misconduct, and could spend up to six months in prison, according to a deal reached with the government.
Once second in line to the Presidency, a guilty plea for Hastert would mean he would become the first ex-Speaker to be convicted of a crime since the Civil War, according to Congressional officials.
In late May Hastert was charged with one count each of "structuring currency transactions" and making false statements to the FBI about payments he allegedly made to an unnamed individual to conceal "prior misconduct." Federal officials told ABC News Hastert's alleged wrongdoing involved the sexual abuse of a male student while Hastert was serving as a high school teacher and wrestling coach decades ago. He originally pleaded not guilty.
Today a judge accepted a plea deal in which Hastert pleaded guilty to the structuring charge. The judge still has to determine Hastert's sentence -- structuring can come with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison -- but the government and defense team have agreed to a guideline sentencing range for Hastert of zero to six months.
Hastert admitted in court to withdrawing money in increments less than $10,000 to avoid reporting obligations, and when asked by the judge if he knew what he was doing was wrong, Hastert said, "Yes, sir."
Days before his initial not guilty plea in June, the sister of a second alleged sexual abuse victim, told ABC News that her brother, Steve Reinboldt, was molested by Hastert while Reinboldt was serving as his high school team's wrestling manager in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In an emotional interview, Jolene Burdge said she first learned of her late brother’s purported years-long sexual abuse at the hands of the future Speaker of the House back in 1979 when her brother revealed to her that he was gay and had been out of high school for eight years.
“I asked him, when was your first same sex experience. He looked at me and said, ‘It was with Dennis Hastert,’” she said. “I was stunned."
Burdge said she asked her brother why he never told anyone. “And he just turned around and kind of looked at me and said, ‘Who is ever going to believe me?’”
Today Burge said that while she’s glad Hastert was forced to at least partially answer for his alleged actions, the proposed sentencing was “sad and unfair.”
“I think he got a pass because of his power and status. I think he got a backroom deal. His victims didn’t get a pass when he put them through the abuse,” Burge said. “I’m really not surprised… His whole life he’s been able to manipulate the system and cover his tracks.”
In a written statement, Burge said she wanted to ask Hastert, “Now that your illegal and immoral actions have finally come to light, let me ask you Mr. Hastert, how does it feel to be at the mercy of someone else’s power?”
Hastert and his representatives have declined to comment on Burdge’s sexual abuse allegations.
While in Congress, Hastert often spoke about family values, and in sex scandals involving other lawmakers, presented himself as a guardian of children.
"Our children need to be protected and we are going to do everything we can to protect them," he said in 2006.