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As trial approaches, lawyer in Hastert hush-money lawsuit alleges possible perjury

Christy Gutowski, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

CHICAGO -- Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert's federal criminal case is long behind him, but a lawyer representing the man who is suing him for the unpaid balance of a $3.5 million hush-money pact hopes key admissions the disgraced politician made back then can be used against him.

Two months before the breach-of-contract trial in Kendall County is tentatively set to begin, attorney Kristi Browne said Friday that Hastert's claims of innocence in the lawsuit proceedings have left her no choice but to try to dig into sealed grand jury testimony or other relevant information in the federal case. She went to court Friday seeking help but did not get all she wanted from a county judge.

Hastert, 77, is being sued by the former student-athlete for the unpaid balance of an unwritten $3.5 million hush-money pact. The now middle-aged man alleges Hastert sexually abused him when he was 14 in the 1970s when the two were staying overnight in a motel during an out-of-state wrestling camp. He is identified in the Kendall County lawsuit only as James Doe.

Hastert's lawsuit deposition also is sealed from public inspection. Due to a clerk error, the nearly 150-page transcript from the Sept. 25, 2018, deposition was temporarily available to the public earlier this week. Both the Chicago Tribune and WMAQ-Ch. 5 Chicago obtained a copy.

Answering questions under oath, Hastert denied anything sexual occurred and said that he simply helped the boy with a pulled groin injury. He said the boy "asked me to work on it, and I did."

In court Friday, Kendall County Judge Robert Pilmer denied Browne's request to share parts of the sealed deposition with U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin. The move would have required Pilmer to ease his own stipulated protective order. Hastert attorney John Ellis objected, arguing the deposition is nearly a year old and the judge has repeatedly denied similar, earlier requests.

Browne argued she needs access to all possible records in the federal case should Hastert testify during the upcoming trial that he never abused her client. She hopes to use any prior admissions in the federal case to cast doubt on his credibility at trial.

"I never in a million years dreamed (Hastert) would deny the allegations that he did," Browne said. "I should be allowed to pursue these materials in federal court. Certainly Judge Durkin could shoot me down if that's what he chooses to do."

Pilmer said he would not interfere if Browne makes a request to the federal judge for access to sealed records in the criminal case. But Pilmer said Browne will not be able to use the sealed deposition to make that federal request.

 

Besides the alleged incident with her client, sexual abuse allegations involving four other Yorkville High School students connected to the wrestling program while Hastert was a teacher and coach also arose in the federal case.

Hastert was never charged with sex crimes because of, in part, an expired statute of limitations. He was apologetic during an April 2016 federal sentencing hearing regarding illegally structuring bank withdrawals to avoid reporting requirements -- cash that would go toward a hush-money pact he made with the former student-athlete behind the ongoing lawsuit.

Hastert stopped paying the man in late 2014 after federal authorities approached him, aware of the suspicious bank withdrawals, to investigate whether the once powerful Republican leader was being victimized. The federal investigation instead revealed the decades-old allegations that Hastert had sexual contact with some of his former players. Hastert served part of a 15-month federal prison sentence for the federal crime and was placed on two years' probation.

It's unlikely Hastert ever testified before a federal grand jury. There is no public record to indicate otherwise.

The factual basis of his October 2015 plea agreement, which Hastert signed, mentioned "past misconduct" against the former student-athlete.

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