CHICAGO — J. Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, was charged on Thursday with lying to the FBI and structuring cash withdrawals to avoid bank reporting requirements.
Hastert, 73, a longtime Republican leader who served as speaker from 1999 until 2007 and now works as a lobbyist in Washington, was providing money to an unnamed person in order to “compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct” against that person, according to a federal indictment issued by Zachary Fardon, the US attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
The indictment says that Hastert, who was once a high school teacher and wrestling coach in a small Illinois town, paid $1.7 million to the person from 2010 to 2014.
Since 2012, the indictment alleges, Hastert had begun structuring withdrawals of less than $10,000 from various accounts to avoid bank reporting requirements as he made the payments. And in late 2014, Hastert told federal agents that he was not paying anyone with the money but was keeping the withdrawals for himself.
“Yeah,” the indictment quotes Hastert as telling the agents. “I kept the cash. That’s what I’m doing.”
According to the indictment, he told the agents that he was making the withdrawals to store the cash “because he did not feel safe with the banking system.”
In 1999, Hastert, who was then a six-term congressman from Illinois, was catapulted to the speaker’s post after Newt Gingrich stepped down after a contentious national election marked by the wounds that the House inflicted on itself during the impeachment proceedings against then-President Bill Clinton.
The Republicans’ first choice to succeed Gingrich, Robert L. Livingston of Louisiana, gave up the position before he assumed it, acknowledging that he had carried on adulterous affairs. Hastert was chosen because of his reputation among his Republican colleagues as a conciliator.
He left Congress in November 2007.
Each count of the indictment carries a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to a statement from the US attorney’s office.
Hastert was a little-known lawmaker from Plano, Ill., a Chicago suburb, when chosen to succeed Gingrich as speaker. During his term, he pushed President George W. Bush’s legislative agenda, helping pass a large tax cut and expanding Medicare prescription drug benefits.
He retired from Congress in 2007 after eight years as speaker.
Since 2008 he has been a senior adviser at Dickstein Shapiro LLP in Washington, where he is a registered lobbyist.
Hastert resigned Thursday from the board of CME Group Inc., the Chicago-based futures exchange operator, where he had served since 2008, most recently as a member of its compensation committee, Bloomberg News reported.