CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge agreed Thursday to delay Dennis Hastert’s sentencing in a hush-money case after his attorney said the former U.S. House Speaker nearly died in November from severe sepsis just days after changing his plea to guilty.
U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin set April 8 as the new sentencing date for the 74-year-old Illinois Republican, replacing Feb. 29, after a defense attorney said Hastert is now largely immobile.
Six days after pleading guilty on Oct. 28 to violating bank laws in seeking to pay someone $3.5 million in hush money, Hastert was hospitalized for a blood infection that spread to his spine and “nearly died that week,” lawyer John Gallo said.
Prosecutor Steven Block said at the hearing in U.S. District Court in Chicago that the government didn’t object to pushing back sentencing — at least this one time. But he said it shouldn’t be put off indefinitely.
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“There are victims in this case,” he said. “They deserve closure.”
While Block used “victims” in the plural, he didn’t identify who he was referring to or how two or more people may have been victimized. Asked about the language later Thursday, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined comment.
The May indictment only mentions an “Individual A” who the former Speaker allegedly sought to pay “to compensate for and conceal (Hastert’s) prior misconduct against Individual A.” 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.
Hastert in October acknowledged in his plea agreement for the first time that he did seek to pay someone to hide misconduct dating back decades — to around the time he was a high school wrestling coach. But neither he nor prosecutors have offered details.
Hastert struggles to get around and the former GOP leader can’t bathe or dress himself, Gallo said Thursday, adding, “But for the 24-hour care, he would be in a nursing home.”
In answer to repeated questions from the judge about Hastert’s mental health, Gallo said his client suffered what he called “a small stroke” in the hospital but is “lucid.”
Durkin responded that, “other than the physical issue, there should be no reason” Hastert couldn’t help prepare for sentencing, including by talking to court officials as they work up a pre-sentencing report.
Prosecutors have said Hastert could qualify to serve up to six months in prison. Hastert’s lawyers are likely to cite deteriorating health as a reason for him to get probation.
Hastert 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.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.