Editorial: Governor, sign ‘Denny’s Law’ on serious sex offenses like Hastert committed
Serial child molester Dennis Hastert is back in Illinois for a month of supervised confinementto wrap up his 15-month federal prison sentence. Let's not pretend he's paid his debt tosociety.
The former U.S. House speaker, now 75, caught a break, pleading guilty to a financial crimebecause it was too late to prosecute him for sexually abusing boys while he was the wrestling coachat Yorkville High School in the 1960s and '70s.
For decades, Hastert's victims struggled with confusion and shame as they watched their formerteacher rise from the Illinois General Assembly to the U.S. House, where he became thelongest-serving speaker among Republicans in its history. Mostly, they kept their silence.
In 2014, federal officials learned that one of the victims had cut a deal to protect Hastert'sdark secret. Hastert had withdrawn more than $950,000 in amounts designed to evade federalreporting requirements, paying installments on a $3.5 million hush money agreement. An FBIinvestigation turned up at least five former students who said they'd been sexually abused by thecoach.
Hastert couldn't face sex-related charges because the statute of limitations had expired.Prosecutors settled for a conviction on the unsatisfying charge of illegally structuring bankwithdrawals.
There was no hiding from the truth, though. At the sentencing hearing, U.S. District JudgeThomas Durkin rejected Hastert's plea for probation, but only after pressing him to admit in courtthat he'd abused his students. Sentencing guidelines called for up to six months in prison. Durkinmore than doubled it.
Hastert served most of his time in a federal prison in Minnesota. He'll spend two more years onsupervised release. There are lawsuits to deal with, including one over the unpaid balance from thehush money pact. And all around him, there is disgrace heaped upon disgrace.
His official portrait was removed from the Speaker's Lobby in the U.S. Capitol. A bronze plaquein the Kendall County Historic Courthouse attesting to his accomplishments was taken down. His namewas stripped from the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government and Public Policy at hisalma mater, Wheaton College. He was booted from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and the DennyHastert Yorkville Invitational wrestling tournament was renamed the Fighting FoxesInvitational.
Nobody wants to be associated with Hastert, and it's not because he played fast and loose withthe banking rules. But that's what he was punished for. It's a travesty.
So today would be a good day for Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign a bill that would remove the statuteof limitations on serious sex offenses when a victim is younger than 18. Yes, it's tough to provesuch charges decades after a crime allegedly occurred. But prosecutors should at least have theoption.
The measure unanimously passed both houses of the General Assembly. It's titled SB 189. But youcan call it Denny's Law.
Message from Executive Director Laura A. Ahearn: Parents for Megan's Law and the Crime VictimsCenter provides prevention education, advocacy, counseling and other valuable support services tochild and adult victims of sexual assault and to all victims of violent crime. Please visit ourwebsite at www.parentsformeganslaw.org for news, information and resources in your community.