CHICAGO — Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, awaiting sentencing in a hush-money case, has suffered a stroke and was admitted to a hospital the first week of November, his attorney said Thursday in a statement.
Hastert also has been treated for sepsis, a potentially life-threatening complication of infection, and had two back surgeries while in the hospital, attorney Tom Green’s statement said.
“We are very hopeful that Mr. Hastert will be released from the hospital in the early part of the new year,” Green said. “The family very much desires that during Mr. Hastert’s continued hospitalization his privacy will be respected.”
Hastert was accused in May of evading banking regulations as part of a plan to pay hush money to conceal “prior misconduct.” The Associated Press and other media outlets, citing anonymous sources, have reported that Hastert wanted to hide claims that he sexually molested someone decades earlier.
The 73-year-old pleaded guilty Oct. 28 to a felony count of evading bank reporting laws in a hush-money scheme. In the written plea agreement, the Illinois Republican directly acknowledged for the first time that he sought to pay someone $3.5 million to hide misconduct by Hastert against that person dating back several decades — about the time the longtime GOP leader was a high school wrestling coach.
Hastert had allegedly paid more than $1.7 million to the person, sometimes in lump sums of $100,000 cash, by the time the scheme was discovered. The indictment said the payments stopped after FBI agents first questioned Hastert in December 2014.
His sentencing date is Feb. 29. Prosecutors recommended that he serve no more than six months in prison.
Hastert’s lawyers are almost certain to ask for a delay in sentencing, though they could wait until weeks or even days before the February date to do so, said Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago attorney with no link to Hastert’s case. Prosecutors aren’t likely to press for proof on the severity of Hastert’s illness or object to a delay, he added.
Judges frequently put ailing or even terminally ill defendants behind bars, said a former assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, Jeffrey Cramer, noting that several federal prisons are medically equipped to deal with such cases. Hastert’s illness is likely to bolster defense arguments that he receive probation or home confinement, he said.
“But it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll stay out of prison,” Cramer said.
A letter dated Dec. 11 and addressed to the presiding federal judge asks for leniency and briefly mentions a hospital stay.
“In light of his recent hospital stay, I would hope that probation in lieu of confinement would be considered in determining his sentence,” C. William Pollard, who describes himself as a longtime friend of Hastert, wrote in the letter.
Posted on the court docket Wednesday, it adds Hastert’s current legal plight “may reflect mistakes in how he structured withdrawals” but that as speaker, Hastert “was known as a man of integrity.” Attempts to reach Pollard were not successful.
Hastert did not mention a stroke when talking to a friend on the telephone last week, Dodie Ingemunson told The Associated Press on Thursday. She said her husband, Dallas Ingemunson, spoke with Hastert and was told that he was suffering from sepsis and had undergone a “couple of back surgeries.”
“We knew he was hospitalized for a while …” Dodie Ingemunson said. “But we had not heard anything about a stroke.”
Dallas Ingemunson, who is a former state’s attorney from Kendall County, where Hastert is from, told the AP in November that Hastert had been admitted to an Aurora hospital but did not know the extent of his medical issues beyond a “foot problem.”
Hastert, who was speaker from 1999 to 2007, was a little-known Illinois lawmaker whose reputation for congeniality helped him ascend the ranks of Congress to become the longest-serving Republican speaker in U.S. history. In January 1999, House Republicans voted for him to succeed Newt Gingrich, who had lost support because of ethics violations and the party’s poor showing in the 1998 midterm election.
Associated Press writers Don Babwin in Chicago, John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois, and Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.