Dennis Hastert. Photo / AP
The small town that boasted of the role it played in Dennis Hastert’s ascent from high school wrestling coach to speaker of the US
House spoke bitterly of him yesterday, a day after prosecutors detailed allegations that Hastert sexually abused several members of the team.
The Illinois Republican’s reputation for congeniality contrasts with the Government’s portrayal of him in a presentencing filing as a manipulator who exploited his mentor role to prey on young athletes. Prosecutors say he also lied to investigators about why he agreed to pay one alleged victim US$3.5 million ($5.1 million), falsely accusing the victim of trying to extort him.
The Hastert revelations have made Yorkville seem less idyllic, Mike Piatkowski, a 65-year-old retired UPS driver, said as he watched his grandson, a student at Yorkville High School, at a baseball practice.
“It’s going to be hard to trust anybody, especially with the kids,” he said.
The court documents detail sexual abuse allegations involving at least four boys that took place at a motel or in the boys’ locker room at Yorkville High School, where Hastert taught and coached from 1965 until 1981. It describes a recliner-style armchair where Hastert often sat in the locker room with a direct view of the stalls where the boys showered.Hastert pleaded guilty last year to violating banking laws in how he structured his cash withdrawals. Prosecutors said they would have considered abuse charges, but the statute of limitations for bringing such charges expired decades ago.
An emailed statement from Hastert’s lawyer, Thomas Green, refers only in general terms to past misconduct by Hastert. “Mr Hastert acknowledges that as a young man he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry,” Green wrote.
Hastert helped put Yorkville on the map during his eight years as House Speaker, making his unmasking all the more painful, several residents said.
Bob Evans, a former school colleague and friend of Hastert’s, said he and many others in town are asking themselves the same question: “All this time together, what the hell did I miss?”
Hastert entered Congress in 1987 became Speaker in 1999 and held the spot until his retirement in 2007.