Dennis Hastert Plea Deal: My Prediction Coming True and The Impact on Future Prosecutions
Maybe today, maybe tomorrow – but soon, and most likely on October 28 according to the Chicago Tribune, Dennis Hastert (former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives) is going to be facing a federal judge with a plea deal in hand, an agreement reportedly ironed out between his defense team and the federal prosecutors.
Whether or not there’s going to be a full-fledged hearing remains to be seen. Hastert definitely wouldn’t want it, and his defense team has the right to request that the hearing be waived — but the judge has to approve the waiver, and this doesn’t happen very often. Plus, this is a big media case and waiving that hearing has all sorts of publicity implications.
So, we’ll see if there’s a full court hearing next week or not. What we do know is that apparently, a deal has been struck.
Dennis Hastert Indicted This Summer on Two Federal Felony Counts
Back in May 2015, Hastert was indicted for (1) violating federal structuring laws (31 U.S.C. 5324(a)(3)) by allegedly paying hush money on a long-ago sexual relationship as well as (2) lying to FBI agents during their investigation in violation of 18 U.S.C.1001(a)(2) (making a ”materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” when questioned by the feds). (You may recall that second violation as the same one that the feds used against Martha Stewart.)
I wrote about the Dennis Hastert arrest this past summer. You can read that article here.
In my analysis, I point out that it’s alleged in the indictment (you can read its full text in my article) that the former Speaker of the House withdrew a total of $1,700,000 over a four year period. He allegedly used all this cash as “hush money” to keep “Individual A” from disclosing what is believed to have been a sexual assault on at least one of Hastert’s former students during the time Hastert was a high school teacher and wrestling coach in Yorkville, Illinois.
One very interesting part of this whole case was the creepy caller named “Bruce” who called Dennis Hastert while Hastert was making an appearance on CSPAN. This creepy call was posted online the same day that the indictment came down, and while it’s referenced by the AUSA (prosecutor) in the indictment, “Bruce” isn’t referenced as a witness. I thought then that this twist would be very important in plea negotiations and prison time.
If you’ll recall, I predicted that Dennis Hastert would enter into a plea agreement with the federal prosecutors and part of that negotiation would be that Hastert would not serve any time behind bars — or very, very little.
Read my prediction here (”Why Dennis Hastert Will Plead Guilty And May Get Probation”):
If Hastert pleads guilty in the scenario I’ve described supra, there will be a big controversy about whether the payments were lawful. I expect the Government will not agree to the six levels off and there may be a massive fight over whether individual A was, in fact, a potential witness against Hastert or just someone Hastert wanted to keep his mouth shut to the media.
It looks like Hastert is way past the Illinois statute of limitations for child sexual assault. I’ve read some folks speculate that Illinois could change the law to prosecute Hastert. But that clearly violates Ex Post Facto, so that WILL NOT happen.
What Will Dennis Hastert Plea Agreement Mean to Future Enforcement Actions and Federal Prosecutions?
According to the Chicago Tribune, part of the plea deal may mean that we will never know who “Individual A” really is — the person who got paid all that money. We do know that Dennis Hastert is going to change his plea from “not guilty” to “guilty” — this was told to the Tribune by Hastert’s lawyer along with the news that an agreement had been reached.
This is a plea deal on banking law violations, and while there is all this rumor and innuendo about Hastert allegedly committing sex crimes involving his students long ago during his teaching days in Yorkville, Illinois, the two counts aren’t based on sexual transgressions.
Everyone considers this to be a sex abuse case at this point. Newsweek, for example, titled its story covering the plea deal as “Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert to Plead Guilty in Sexual Abuse Hush-Money Case.”
From a criminal defense perspective, this isn’t a sex crimes case. It’s a structuring case with obstruction thrown in.
Dennis Hastert is dealing with a two count indictment where the charges are based upon money, and then fudging to the feds when asked about the money.
A public airing of the sexual abuse backstory may never, ever happen — that’s the big deal of this plea agreement from one standpoint. It keeps the past in the past for one of the country’s most successful politicians. Dennis Hastert did get elected to represent the people of Illinois for many years and he achieved what few have done — he served as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. From this perspective, a plea deal on the felony charges means nipping in the bid any revelations from investigations into the reasons for that hush money being paid.
His career of public service also bolsters an argument for probation in lieu of prison time. And if the plea deal is made and the Hastert prosecution is finalized this month, then Hastert can move forward without the airing of any dirty laundry from the 1980s.
And for that matter, so can “Individual A” — his privacy will be protected here, as well.
Meanwhile, as for future federal prosecutions, if the federal agents are successful in using the structuring laws to get a plea agreement and a “guilty plea” in a case where any underlying sex crimes have long since past their state statute of limitations, then we all need to be concerned.
We already know that there’s an epidemic of federal authorities misusing structuring laws to grab money from innocent citizens. Lots of folk are in the news these days after getting in trouble with the federal authorities and having their bank accounts wiped out under money laundering laws that makes it illegal to have routine bank transactions that are close to $10,000 (deposits or withdrawals).
Questions we all need to be asking now:
- Will the Hastert Plea Agreement mean that the federal prosecutors will have precedent now to use federal structuring laws as a tool to pressure someone to take a plea deal, even if they aren’t facing any other wrongdoing?
- Are we okay with the federal authorities using federal structuring laws to arrest and pressure someone to take a plea deal on the structuring case, when there’s no indictment or charge on other crimes, no matter how ugly they may be?
For details on how structuring works, check out my In-Depth Article on Structuring, “Structured Cash Deposits: What Do I Do When The IRS Cid Agent Comes?”
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