'A great tragedy'

Last week, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin filed a report containing 60 letters of support and opposition for embattled former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Durkin said the letters must be made public if they are to be considered as a part of the defense in the sentencing on April 27.

The letters of three members of the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics Advisory Board are included in those made public last week. Floyd Kvamme, PJ Hill and William Pollard, a friend of Hastert’s for 30 years, wrote Durkin to speak to Hastert’s upstanding public service record and his heart for students.

Hill, a former economics professor at Wheaton College and current chairman of the Center’s Advisory Board, got to know Hastert through the establishment of the previously-mentioned Wheaton Center, formerly known as the J. Dennis Hastert Center. Hill was “impressed” with Hastert’s “deep concern” for Wheaton students. It was his gratitude and respect for Hastert’s character that drove Hill to write a letter to Durkin in January.

Hill said that learning of the allegations against Hastert last May was “probably one of the biggest shocks” of his life. But despite Hastert’s accomplishments and positive effect on students, Hill also admitted that those aspects were “not enough to erase” Hastert’s alleged actions. Hill said he did not know much of recent allegations but sympathized with the people affected by any alleged misconduct. “They’re real people with real hearts, and we need to deal with that,” he said.

David Iglesias, director of the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics, described Hastert’s reputation in Washington as “spotless” prior to the case. Iglesias served as the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico while Hastert was in Congress and “never heard any whisper of any impropriety.”

Iglesias would not speculate about the results of the sentencing, but said that the Presentence Investigation Report (PSIR), submitted by the office of probation and parole, often carries “more weight” than what the prosecution or defense argues. A PSIR is a little-known third source that serves to advise the court on the defendant’s history, potential for rehabilitation and potential for reoffending.

Both sides have agreed to ask for no more than six months incarceration, though Durkin still holds the power to sentence up to five years in prison. Iglesias said that it is “unusual” for judges to deviate from the wishes of both sides because over- or under-sentencing is grounds for appeal, and “district judges hate being appealed.”

Though Iglesias also knew Hastert from his time at Wheaton College, he did not write a letter of support. “I’ve been a lawyer now for 32 years and I’ve written exactly one letter for sentencing matters,” said Iglesias. This instance was for a young Navy officer in Virginia who was being charged for “frequenting a bawdy house,” which is a place that serves as a front for prostitution.”

Iglesias said he knew the officer well enough to believe the offense was “an aberration” and gladly agreed to write a letter of support to the judge. Six months later, Iglesias was told that his letter was “the only letter that mattered” to the judge and that the officer was not convicted and thus remained in the Navy.

Hastert’s age, poor health and lack of criminal history will contribute to Durkin’s sentencing decision next week. The testimonies of alleged victims will also be considered, though no charges of sexual misconduct can be tried in federal court since they are state offenses.

The statute of limitations for the alleged misconduct has also run out. None of Hastert’s criminal activity — whether alleged or admitted — took place during his 20 years in office, which makes his standing likely “more favorable” than if it were during his years in Congress, according to Iglesias.

The relationship between the current charges and alleged misconduct makes this “a highly unusual case,” said Iglesias.

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