Former House Speaker Hastert To Appear In Federal Court On Tuesday

Former House Speaker Hastert To Appear In Federal Court On Tuesday

2:23pm Jun 09, 2015

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Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert makes a scheduled appearance in a federal courtroom later this week. When he does, he will join a long line of Illinois politicians who have faced corruption charges. Hastert has not made any public statement since he was indicted last month on charges of lying to the FBI and trying to conceal payments he was making to hide past misconduct. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: At times it seems inevitable that a big-name politician in Illinois and plenty without much acclaim will end up in a courtroom. There have been former governors, like Rod Blagojevich, in prison now after being convicted of several counts of corruption.

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ROD BLAGOJEVICH: Patti and I obviously are very disappointed in the outcome.

CORLEY: For a short time, Blagojevich was imprisoned at the same time as his predecessor. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan, released from prison in 2013, was convicted 10 years ago.

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GEORGE RYAN: I believe this decision today is not in accordance with the kind of public service...

CORLEY: And there's been congressmen like former Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., who pleaded guilty to corruption charges. Roosevelt University political science professor Paul Green says those are just the most recent high profile cases in a state and region with a long history of political corruption.

PAUL GREEN: This state's about money and power. And it's always been. That's where 99 percent of our people have gotten in trouble.

CORLEY: Like former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski, who served more than three decades in Congress and was convicted of mail fraud. But 20 years ago, Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s predecessor, former Representative Mel Reynolds, was charged with having sex with an underage campaign volunteer.

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MEL REYNOLDS: I've never been accused of spitting on the sidewalk or jaywalking until I first ran for Congress in 1988. But all of a sudden you get into politics in Chicago and I guess in other places, and it happened.

CORLEY: And now the Hastert case. The indictment says the former congressman agreed to pay someone known only as individual A $3.5 million in hush money to keep quiet about prior misconduct and trying to conceal those payments.

Several media outlets have reported those payments were intended to conceal claims that the former speaker sexually molested a male, possibly a student, when he was a wrestling coach and teacher at Yorkville High School about 50 miles southwest of Chicago. At the American Legion Post in Yorkville, Dean and Carol Bundy, who've come in for lunch, say this region full of Hastert supporters is called Dennyland (ph).

DEAN BUNDY: Everybody knows Denny. You bet.

CORLEY: Dean Bundy has known Hastert since they were in high school together in the 1950s when they both were on the wrestling team.

D. BUNDY: He's good people.

CAROL BUNDY: I don't think he's ever done anything wrong in his life - never as far as anyone around here knows.

D. BUNDY: Nobody's perfect.

CORLEY: Dick Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, says what may have happened over three decades ago between Hastert and individual A is likely beyond the statute of limitations. But Simpson, who's written extensively about political corruption, says federal prosecutors have used reporting regulations, typically to target money laundering, drug cartels or corporate crime.

DICK SIMPSON: Politicians almost never have so much money that they can be caught this way. You know, these are large payments - $50,000 at a time in the beginning.

CORLEY: Hastert, who made millions selling his farmland and working as a lobbyist after leaving Congress, has not appeared in public since the indictment was released.

SIMPSON: Well, it's very different from, say, Rod Blagojevich's strategy, which was to go on national media.

CORLEY: Professor Simpson says no comment from Hastert means there's no public comment that could be used against him in a subsequent trial. On Tuesday, the former congressman is scheduled to appear in a federal courtroom. He'll go before a judge who donated $1,500 back when he was an attorney to Hastert's reelection campaign more than a decade ago. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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