Did Ex-Speaker Hastert Get a “Sweet Deal” In Hush-Money Plea Bargain?


Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's guilty plea in a hush-money case has some asking whether he is getting a sweetheart deal, Politico reports. Hastert this week admitted to a felony charge of structuring $952,000 into 106 separate bank withdrawals to avoid federal reporting requirements. The two sides agreed that sentencing guidelines call for Hastert to receive between zero and six months in jail. Legal experts say those guidelines arguably call for a much longer sentence—closer to two to three years or more, including a potential enhancement for obstruction of justice. Some lawyers are baffled that prosecutors would buy into a calculation that opens the door to Hastert getting probation. “It seems like a sweet deal,” said University of Richmond law Prof. Carl Tobias. “It's just hard to understand.”

Hastert was charged with lying to the FBI about what he did with the money, concealing that he paid it to a longtime associate in an effort to hide past misconduct. In the plea deal, the charge was dropped. Hastert’s sentence will be announced by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Durkin on Feb. 29. One attorney involved in “structuring” cases expressed concern that the prosecution stance could make it harder for the government to seek tough sentences in future such cases. “I'm disappointed,” said the lawyer, who asked not to be named. “I think it's going to have detrimental ramifications when it comes to enforcing structuring laws.” The case might reflect efforts by former Attorney General Eric Holder and successor Loretta Lynch to encourage more modest sentences in many cases. “It could tap into this reflection of the new world order in the Justice Department where [they believe] we send too many people to jail for too long,” said Ohio State law Prof. Doug Berman. “I would challenge anyone to say that sending [Hastert] away at all will make the world a safer place.”

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