By CARYN ROUSSEAU and MICHAEL TARM, Associated Press
CHICAGO (AP) — Disgraced former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is far from putting his child-sex-abuse scandal behind him after being released from federal prison in Minnesota where he served a little over a year for a related banking conviction. He now must undergo intensive court-ordered sex-offender treatment designed to ensure he never again poses a risk to children.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed Tuesday that Hastert was released the day before and transferred to a Chicago re-entry facility. It wasn’t clear whether Hastert was in a halfway house or under home confinement. His attorneys declined comment, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons said in an email only that he is now “under the jurisdiction” of the Chicago re-entry management office. Hastert’s official release date was Aug. 16.
The Illinois Republican was sentenced to 15 months in prison in April 2016 in a banking violations case that revealed he had sexually abused teenagers while coaching wrestling at a suburban Chicago high school. He was also given a two-year term of supervised released after has was out from behind bars.
The treatment Hastert faces is likely to include a lie-detector test to determine how many times the 75-year-old Illinois Republican sexually abused kids. Another common treatment for sex-offenders involves a penile plethysmograph, which gauges a known molester’s physical reaction to specific images, according to former federal agents who dealt with child abuse cases.
Hastert could potentially put himself in legal jeopardy if he refuses any of the tests or doesn’t appear to be forthcoming about any instances of abuse, said Francey Hakes, a former special assistant to the U.S. attorney general overseeing Justice Department child-exploitation units.
If he doesn’t cooperate fully, a judge could send him back to prison; but if he admits to other cases, that could open new investigations, she said.
“It is a Catch-22 of sex offender treatment,” she said in a telephone interview.
Hastert, one of the highest-ranking U.S. politicians to ever go to prison, was the nation’s longest-serving GOP House speaker, second in the line to the presidency from 1999 to 2007 under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He pleaded guilty in 2015 to violating banking law in seeking to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep the sex abuse secret. While the molestation of children underpinned the case, Hastert couldn’t be charged with sexual abused because the statutes of limitations had long since run out.
Unless Hastert participates fully and honestly in the treatment program — including by admitting an attraction to children — Hakes said there would be reason to think he still is a risk.
“If I was a relative or lived in his community, I wouldn’t leave him alone around my children,” Hakes said.
Because Hastert wasn’t convicted of child abuse, he is not required to register as a sex offender. However, federal officials could choose to notify Hastert’s victims or local authorities to make them aware he is out of prison.
Maia Christopher, the executive director of the Association For The Treatment Of Sexual Abusers, says treatment can also include looking back at abusers’ childhoods, considering whether mental illness is a factor and assessing whether their social networks can play a role in preventing further abuse.
Scott Cross, who testified at Hastert’s sentencing hearing that Hastert abused him as a teen, said Tuesday that he didn’t ask to be notified of Hastert’s release from prison and remains intent on moving on with his life. Cross still believes Hastert’s sentence was a “slap on the wrist” but doesn’t fault federal authorities.
“I don’t have any control over this stuff,” he told The Associated Press. “I did what I thought was right for me. I’m not going to look back on it.”
Judge Thomas M. Durkin branded Hastert “a serial child molester” during his sentencing in Chicago, pointing to at least four students abused by Hastert when he coached at Yorkville High School, from 1965 to 1981.
Cross, a former wrestler, testified that he was abused when he was in the school locker room. Court filings describe how Hastert would also sit in a recliner in the high school locker room with a direct view of the showers.
Experts disagree on the extent to which sex-offender treatment can help. Jim Clemente, a former FBI supervisory agent who frequently testifies in child sex-abuse cases, says analysts often try to determine whether an abuser is sexually attracted to children or is what he called “a situational offender” who isn’t necessarily motivated by an attraction to kids.
“There is no cure for the former,” he said.
Associated Press reporters Michael Kunzelman and Don Babwin contributed to this report.
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