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Indictment: Ex-House speaker Hastert averted bank laws to pay 'hush money'

The Chicago grand jury says former Illinois congressman Dennis Hastert intentionally skirted federal banking laws to make "hush money" payments to an unnamed individual.
By Doug G. Ware   |   May 28, 2015 at 8:38 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) -- The longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House in U.S. history was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday, for allegedly violating banking laws in an effort to pay off a person who accused the former congressman of "past misconduct."

John Dennis Hastert, the house speaker from 1999 to 2007, is accused of violating U.S. banking laws that require the disclosure of all cash transactions that exceed $10,000, the indictment said.

According to the court document, Hastert was paying the money to the unnamed individual to "compensate for and conceal" the unspecified past misconduct. In the course of the payments, Hastert supposedly made numerous cash withdrawals from four different bank accounts without notifying proper officials, as required by law.

From 2010 to 2015, payments totaling $1.7 million were made to the unnamed individual, often in increments of $100,000 and $50,000, the indictment alleges. The amount agreed upon to be paid by Hastert to the recipient, the grand jury says, was $3.5 million.

"I'm completely surprised and stunned," Republican pollster David Winston said in the Post report. "Nothing in my dealings with him that I saw would lead me to think this would have happened."

The FBI and Internal Revenue Service began looking into the transactions in 2013, the Washington Post reported.

After cutting his withdrawals to less than $10,000, to get around the banking laws, the indictment says Hastert made payments totaling $952,000 to the recipient -- an amount that was supposedly achieved through at least 106 different bank withdrawals.

When asked about the transactions in December, the indictment says, Hastert lied to federal authorities and said he withdrew the cash due to a lack of confidence in the four banks holding his money.

"Yeah... I kept the cash. That's what I'm doing," the indictment quotes Hastert as telling FBI agents.

The grand jury, who were convened in February, said the response was a lie because Hastert, at that time, knew he had already been supplying the money to the unnamed recipient.

Hastert, 73, has been a Washington lobbyist since stepping down as house speaker in 2007. Exactly what "past misconduct" Hastert was accused of having committed was not revealed in the Chicago grand jury's indictment.

However, the indictment notes that before entering politics in 1981, Hastert had been an Illinois high school teacher and wrestling coach for about a decade -- inviting speculation that the supposed misconduct might have occurred during that time.

The former house speaker did not comment on the indictment Thursday. It has not yet been revealed whether authorities will also prosecute the person who received the payments.

Hastert is expected to be arraigned on the charges in U.S. District Court. Each count carries a possible penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago said.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

New killings make May worst month for Baltimore homicides in 19 years

"“People feel as though they can do things and get away with it," resident Donnail Lee said.
By Doug G. Ware   |   May 28, 2015 at 7:22 PM
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BALTIMORE, May 28 (UPI) -- The murders of a woman and her 7-year-old son Thursday make May the worst month for homicides in Baltimore in nearly 20 years.

The two were found dead Thursday morning after reports of a shooting, police said. Family members identified the victims as Jennifer Jeffrey-Browne, 31, and her son, Kester "Tony" Browne, the Baltimore Sun reported. Both were shot in the head, police said.

The pair's death brings the city's May homicide total to 38 -- the most since 1996, the Sun report said. The total so far for 2015 is 111. Thursday's deaths pass the previous mark of 36 homicides, recorded in 1999.

Homicides typically spike during the summer months, Time reported, but Baltimore's current rise has coincided with fewer arrests by the Baltimore Police Department. The unrest over the Freddie Gray case has factored into the May statistics, experts believe.

Gray was arrested in April and sustained fatal injuries while he was being transported to the police station. His death sparked nationwide anger, dozens of protests and some rioting and looting.

The escalating murder rate has some residents concerned, CBS Baltimore reported.

"I'm afraid to go outside," resident Antoinette Perrine, whose brother was shot and killed three weeks ago in West Baltimore, said. "People wake up with shots through their windows. Police used to sit on every corner, on the top of the block. These days? They're nowhere."

Perrine added that she has taken security measures to protect her home, such as barricading her front door and attaching metal slabs onto her windows to deflect potential gunfire.

"Before, it was over-policing. Now, there's no police," resident Donnail Lee said. "People feel as though they can do things and get away with it. I see people walking with guns almost every single day."

Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts, however, said officers aren't pulling back. Part of the challenge, he said, is that there is presently a lot of hostility against his department.

"Our officers tell me that when officers pull up, they have 30 to 50 people surrounding them at any time," Batts said.

With three days remaining in May, and the Freddie Gray case still in the spotlight, the city's murder tally is expected to rise even further.

Topics: Freddie Gray
© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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