Dennis Hastert seeks repayment of $1.7 million in hush-money from sex abuse accuser
Christy Gutowski, Chicago Tribune
Imprisoned former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has asked a Kendall County judge to not only reject a sexual abuse victim's breach-of-contract lawsuit, but also to make the man pay back the $1.7 million in secret hush-money payments.
In response to the lawsuit and in his counterclaim, made public Thursday and signed by Hastert, he denied that the oral pact is akin to a valid and enforceable contract and, if so, it would be the plaintiff who breached it when he spoke to federal authorities. Hastert also is seeking "reasonable expenses, attorneys' fees, and costs."
The lawsuit was filed in April by a now middle-age married man whom Hastert coached decades ago at Yorkville High School.
The man, known as Individual A in the federal case against Hastert, said Hastert had agreed in 2010 to pay him $3.5 million if he didn't disclose publicly that Hastert inappropriately touched him in the 1970s, when Individual A was 14, during a wrestling trip while the two stayed overnight in a hotel room. The boy at the time was not yet in high school, but Hastert was close friends with his parents.
The boy went on to become a standout student-athlete in high school. He later suffered panic attacks, unemployment, bouts of depression and psychiatric treatment, according to his lawsuit.
Hastert paid the former wrestler $1.7 million over 41/2 years through 2014, but he stopped making payments that December after the FBI questioned him in his Plano home about the large bank withdrawals. Hastert is serving a 15-month federal prison sentence in Rochester, Minn., for illegally structuring the bank withdrawals to avoid reporting requirements.
In his lawsuit, Individual A seeks the remaining $1.8 million.
At his April sentencing hearing, Hastert admitted to inappropriate conduct with the man and some of his former student-athletes before going into politics in the 1980s. In his response this week to the lawsuit, regarding the sexual abuse allegations, Hastert said he had "insufficient information with which to admit or deny the allegations."
Individual A's attorney, Kristi Browne, said the oral agreement with Hastert was similar to an out-of-court settlement had he filed a personal injury claim. In response, Hastert attorney John Ellis has argued the man would have been barred from pursuing such a claim due to the long-expired statute of limitations. So, Ellis said, the agreement dealt only with selling silence, which is not legally sound.
Ellis also raised several affirmative defenses in his latest response, including that any pact is unenforceable because Hastert would have been under "duress" at the time the contract was formed.
The lawsuit is due in court again March 8. So far, Kendall County Circuit Judge Robert Pilmer has denied Hastert's motion to dismiss the claim and temporarily allowed the man to file it as a James Doe.
Hastert had admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he was making the withdrawals to pay off the man to hide wrongdoing from his past. The statute of limitations barred prosecutors from pursuing child molestation charges.
Browne said her client had asked Hastert if they should involve lawyers and put the agreement in writing, but it was Hastert who urged the man to keep their pact confidential and pledged to pay "every last dollar."
The FBI and U.S. attorney's office determined Individual A did nothing illegal.
Federal prosecutors said Hastert inappropriately touched at least five male students when he was a wrestling coach from 1965 to 1981. The statute of limitations to bring charges for sexual abuse had long since run out, and prosecutors said their best option for holding Hastert accountable was for banking violations. His bombshell federal indictment was made public in May 2015.
For nearly a year afterward, federal prosecutors kept any mention of Hastert's sexual abuse of children confidential in the proceedings. But a Tribune investigation uncovered the nature of the allegations and identities of most of Hastert's victims, including Individual A. The man, who retired early from his chosen profession, has declined requests for comment, but his wife has acknowledged to the Tribune that he is a victim.
The Tribune typically does not name victims of sexual crimes without their permission.
Another of Hastert's accusers was Scott Cross, a younger brother of former Illinois House Republican leader Tom Cross. Scott Cross appeared publicly during Hastert's April 27 sentencing hearing in Chicago and detailed a one-time incident in fall 1979 in which he said Hastert inappropriately touched him during a massage after wrestling practice. Scott Cross, 54, of Wheaton, also recently testified before an Illinois Senate committee in support of legislation to lift deadlines for prosecuting several felony crimes involving sexual offenses against children.
The case began to unfold after a Yorkville bank noticed Hastert making suspicious withdrawals. In December 2014, FBI agents confronted Hastert. He told them he was trying to keep his money safe, but he later alleged he was a victim of an extortion plot. At the request of authorities, Hastert secretly recorded two calls to Individual A to catch him making threats, but agents soon realized it was Hastert who was lying.
Hastert, 75, is due to be paroled in August.
A Nevada man accused of molesting two girls in 2012 in Burkburnett was re-indicted for 14 different counts of child sex abuse.
Court documents state the two cases were re-indicted into eight counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and six counts of indecency with a child by sexual contact.
According to arrest warrant affidavits:
In August of 2012, a woman reported to Burkburnett police that Swegheimer had sexually assaulted her two daughters, ages 14 and 10 during the initial incident. At the time, the girls didn't provide enough sufficient details to support probable cause.
In December of 2014, the 10-year-old was willing to provide more details to forensic interviewers at Patsy's House. The girl said Swegheimer sexually assaulted her many times but she remembered she was in first grade the first time something happened and described several different sexual acts.
In July of 2015, the older sister said she was now willing to provide detailed information about the incidents when Swegheimer sexually abused her. The 14-year-old said he abused her when she was 10 to 12 years old and more than once he placed her in his truck and "tried to have sex with" her.
The older sister said when she was 12, Swegheimer asked her and her sister to "put on a little fashion show" for him in her swimsuit. During the incident, the girl said Swegheimer began to touch her inappropriately.