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AP source: Hastert paid to conceal claims of sexual abuse

FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2007, file photo, former House Speaker Dennis, Hastert, R-Ill., announces that he will not seek re-election for a 12th term in Yorkville, Ill. Federal prosecutors have indicted Thursday, May 28, 2015, the former U.S. House Speaker on bank-related charges. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert paid hush money to conceal claims that the Illinois Republican sexually molested someone decades ago, a person familiar with the allegations said Friday.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and the allegations are not contained in an indictment issued Thursday. The specific nature of the claims was not immediately clear.

The federal indictment accused Hastert of agreeing to pay $3.5 million to keep a person from the suburban Chicago town where he was a longtime high school teacher and wrestling coach silent about “prior misconduct,” but the court papers did not detail the wrongdoing.

Several media outlets reported similar details Friday, citing unnamed federal officials.

The Los Angeles Times, which was the first to report the specifics, cited two federal law enforcement officials, one of whom said Hastert paid a male to keep quiet about allegations that the former speaker molested him back in his coaching days.

The official said the case had nothing to do with public corruption or Hastert’s time in elected office.

The indictment accused Hastert of agreeing to pay the money to a person identified in the document only as “Individual A,” to “compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against” that person.

It noted that Hastert was a high school history teacher and coach from 1965 to 1981 in suburban Yorkville, west of Chicago. It went on to say that Individual A has been a resident of Yorkville and has known Hastert for most of Individual A’s life, but it did not describe their relationship.

Legal experts say the fact that federal prosecutors noted Hastert’s tenure in Yorkville in the indictment’s first few sentences strongly suggests some connection between the allegations and that time and place.

“Notice the teacher and coach language,” said Jeff Cramer, a former federal prosecutor and head of the Chicago office of the investigation firm Kroll. “Feds don’t put in language like that unless it’s relevant.”

No one has contacted the school district where Hastert worked to report any misconduct involving him, school officials Friday said in a statement. The district did not learn of the indictment until Thursday.

Hastert, who has not been arrested, was a little-known GOP leader when he was chosen to succeed Newt Gingrich as speaker. Hastert was picked after favored Louisiana Rep. Bob Livingston resigned following his admission of several sexual affairs.

As speaker, Hastert pushed President George W. Bush’s legislative agenda, helping pass a massive tax cut and expanding federal prescription drug benefits. During those years, he was second in the line for the presidency, after the vice president.

He retired from Congress in 2007 after eight years as speaker, making him the longest-serving Republican House speaker. After leaving Congress, he worked as a lobbyist in Washington.

A spokesman for the Dickstein Shapiro LLC law and lobbying firm said Thursday that Hastert had resigned.

The indictment charges the 73-year-old with one count of evading bank regulations by withdrawing $952,000 in increments of less than $10,000 to skirt reporting requirements. He also is charged with one count of lying to the FBI about the reason for the unusual withdrawals.

Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Hastert did not respond to repeated phone calls and emails from the AP seeking comment. He did not appear in public Thursday evening or Friday, and it was not clear if he had an attorney.

Prosecutors said Hastert will be ordered to appear for arraignment, but no date had been set.

Hastert allegedly withdrew a total of $1.7 million in cash from various bank accounts from 2010 to 2014, then provided the money to Individual A.

The indictment said Hastert agreed to the payments after multiple meetings in 2010. “During at least one of the meetings, Individual A and defendant discussed past misconduct by defendant against Individual A that had occurred years earlier,” and Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to keep it quiet, the papers said. The indictment suggests he never paid the full amount.

Between 2010 and 2012, Hastert made 15 cash withdrawals of $50,000 from bank accounts and gave cash to Individual A around every six weeks, according to the indictment.

Around April 2012, bank officials began questioning Hastert about the withdrawals. Starting in July of that year, Hastert reduced the amounts he withdrew to less than $10,000 at a time, apparently so they would not run afoul of a regulation designed to stop illicit activity such as money laundering, the indictment said.

Among the focuses of the FBI investigation was whether Hastert, in the words of the indictment, was “the victim of a criminal extortion related to, among other matters, his prior positions in government.” The court document does not elaborate.

Investigators questioned Hastert on Dec. 8, and he claimed he was making the withdrawals because he did not trust the banking system, the indictment said.

“Yeah … I kept the cash. That’s what I am doing,” it quotes Hastert as saying.

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Tucker reported from Washington.

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Associated Press writers Kerry Lester in Springfield, Don Babwin and Sophia Tareen in Chicago and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York also contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm .

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The indictment: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2089692-hastert-indictment-final.html .

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