Describing Dennis Hastert as a “child molester” who lied to the FBI, a federal judge in Chicago today sentenced the former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to 15 months in prison, a sentence far harsher than what even prosecutors had requested.
Federal Judge Thomas Durkin also ordered Hastert to a treatment program for sexual offenders saying if it wasn’t for Hastert’s advanced age and health, he would have sentenced him even longer, saying he was “sad for the country and sad for the victims."
During the emotionally charged hearing, a Chicago area businessman Scott Cross spoke publicly for the first time of the abuse he suffered as a 17-year-old high school student.
“It was my darkest secret as he became more powerful,” Cross said.
"He was a key figure of my life as a coach and a teacher," he said through tears, at some moments pausing to regain his composure. "I respected and trusted Coach Hastert."
"Coach Hastert sexually abused me in my senior year of high school," he told the court.
He said he stayed late after school to try and make weight one night when the molestation occurred, after Hastert told him he was going to give him a massage to help.
After a few minutes, Cross said Hastert "pulled down my shorts and grabbed my penis and began to rub me."
He said he was stunned and jumped up and grabbed his shorts and ran out of the room, and they never spoke of it again.
"As a 17-year-old boy I was devastated," he said and described the deep pain he continues to feel to this day.
The shocking testimony came as part of Hastert’s sentencing hearing in a Chicago courtroom today on criminal charges following Hastert’s efforts to conceal $1.7 million in hush money payments to a another former high school wrestling team member.
Hastert, who faced up to six months in prison, spoke as well today, apologizing to his former students for mistreating them.
Using a walker to approach the Judge, Hastert said, “I am deeply ashamed to be standing here today. I know I am here because I mistreated some of my athletes that I coached. I want to apologize to the boys I mistreated. I was wrong and I accept that."
Scott Cross only decided to come forward when Hastert reached out to his older brother Tom for a letter of support for the sentencing hearing.
Tom Cross, active in local Republican politics, had been a long-time political ally and vocal supporter, defending Hastert in interviews even as the allegations of sex abuse began to first surface last fall, but before he learned of what had happened to his brother Scott.
“We are very proud of Scott for having the courage to relive this very painful part of his life in order to ensure that justice is done today,” Tom Cross staid in a statement today.
While it was a day of reckoning for Hastert, it was also day of vindication for Jolene Burdge, the sister of former Yorkville High School student Steve Reinboldt, now deceased, who tried for more than a decade to bring attention to her claims that Hastert also molested her brother in high school.
Burdge was the first to testify, telling Hastert that she hoped she had been his “worst nightmare” and urged Hastert to speak truthfully to the court.
“He was successful in hiding this secret and going on to have a wonderful life and a career while there were many young men who suffered for his actions.” Burdge, told ABC News.
Burdge described her encounter with Hastert in court this morning: “I looked at him and he looked at me and I hope that he remembers that no matter how big or how powerful you are, you can’t get away with molesting children."
After the sentencing hearing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois made a statement, saying “With this case, the Office sought to hold Mr. Hastert accountable for the crimes he committed that could still be prosecuted: illegally structuring cash withdrawals and lying to the government about his motive for engaging in that activity. All of us have been inspired by the strength and bravery of the victims and witnesses who came forward in the most challenging of circumstances."