Former U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday, accused of skirting federal banking laws in a bid to pay $3.5 million in "hush money" to a person who threatened to expose a "past misconduct." File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) -- The longest-serving Republican speaker of the House in U.S. history was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday, accused of violating banking laws in an effort to pay off a person who accused the former congressman of "past misconduct."
John Dennis Hastert, who served as 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 allegedly made numerous cash withdrawals from four 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.
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, which was convened in February, said the response was a lie because Hastert, at that time, knew he had 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.
"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."
Hastert 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.