YORKVILLE, Ill. — Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a man accusing him of child sexual abuse reached an interim out-of-court settlement Wednesday after Hastert refused to pay the man $1.8 million. The Illinois Republican agreed to pay the man in 2010.
Lawyers, who arrived a few days before the civil trial in the case, which is about to begin, did not disclose the details of the settlement. It would focus on a new legal issue, whether Hastert’s verbal agreement to pay $3.5 million to buy the silence of a man he abused as a teenager was a legally binding contract.
The man has been referred to only as James Doe in court documents since a breach of contract lawsuit was filed in 2016 in an Illinois court in Hastert’s hometown of Yorkville.
The pact of silence would eventually lead to a federal criminal case against Hastert five years later and public disgrace for a GOP stalwart who was second in a row for the presidency as a House spokesperson for eight years. In the federal case, prosecutors said Hastert sexually assaulted at least four male students aged 14 to 17 during his years at Yorkville High. Hastert was in his 20s and 30s.
Federal prosecutors said that during the criminal proceedings, the silence agreement was made voluntarily and the victim never attempted to blackmail Hastert. The harassment took place when the victim was a high school wrestler and Hastert, now 79, was her coach.
Hastert paid $1.7 million over four years, but stopped the payments after the FBI questioned him about illegally concealing large cash withdrawals from his bank in 2014. After Hastert pleaded guilty to a banking crime and was sentenced to more than a year in prison in 2016. He could not be charged with sexual abuse because the statute of limitations had already expired.
After Hastert was sentenced, the victim sued for breach of contract to force Hastert to pay the outstanding $1.8 million.
Kendall County judge Robert Pilmer announced that the trial closed Wednesday afternoon at an earlier scheduled hearing to discuss the logistics of jury selection, which is expected to begin Monday.
After the hearing, both plaintiff and Hastert’s attorneys declined to provide any settlement details, including whether Hastert agreed to pay the man and, if so, how much.
“It never ends for a victim of childhood sexual abuse. …
Browne said the parties plan to come to a written agreement within the next few days and notify the judge that the agreement is complete by September 24.
“Frankly, I was looking forward to the hearing,” Browne said. “I’d like to try this case. I think it was a good case. … But it’s a decision my client is comfortable with.”
Browne declined to say whether the judge’s decision to make his client’s name public at trial now falls within the settlement decision.
A trial would likely be emotionally draining for both Hastert and the man she abused, both could be called to testify.
In the four years since the lawsuit was filed, questions have arisen over whether Hastert’s legal team is trying to suggest that Doe tried to usurp the former speaker.
Browne said Pilmer had previously decided that Hastert’s lawyers would not attempt to make that claim.
“We didn’t expect this term to be used in court. We didn’t expect it to come up as a defense,” he said.
In 2016, US District Judge Thomas M. Durkin repeatedly reprimanded Hastert before serving a 15-month sentence, telling him that his abuse had ruined the lives of the victims.
“There’s nothing more striking than having the words serial child molester and Speaker of the House in the same sentence,” Durkin told Hastert.
The judge also noted that Hastert had told investigators that “Individual A” – how the man in the civil suit was referred to in the federal criminal case – had made a false allegation of sex abuse to blackmail him into getting money.
“It was unreasonable to accuse Individual A of extortion,” Durkin said. “He was the victim of[abuse]decades ago, and you tried to make him the victim again.”
Federal prosecutors said it was Hastert who wanted lawyers not to be brought in to put the $3.5 million deal in writing. They portrayed it as a legitimate agreement between an abuser and the abused.
Hastert admitted to harassing the man and other athletes in the criminal case, but in some cases in the civil suit he sometimes seemed to back down from that confession.
“I think he said different things at different times,” Browne told reporters. But I can’t talk about what his intentions or motivation was.”
When Hastert’s lawyer, John Ellis, was asked by an out-of-court reporter on Wednesday whether Hastert had actually reneged on that confession, he declined to comment.