Dennis Hastert, once one of the most powerful U.S. political figures, pleaded guilty Wednesday and now faces imprisonment in a $3.5 million hush-money case stemming from allegations of long-ago sexual misconduct.
Under a plea deal with prosecutors in Chicago, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives admitted violating U.S. banking laws in the way he withdrew $1.7 million from bank accounts over the last several years.
The 73-year-old ex-congressman had led the Republican-controlled House for eight years until 2007, and at the time was second in line to the U.S. presidency.
In a short statement as he pleaded guilty, Hastert said he did not want the Federal Bureau of Investigation to know how he "intended to spend the money," but no new details of the allegations were revealed in court.
Federal prosecutors accused Hastert of agreeing to pay $3.5 million to an unidentified person to conceal past misconduct. That person has not surfaced, but law enforcement sources have told U.S. media outlets that Hastert was making large payments to hide sexual misconduct against a boy that occurred when Hastert was a young teacher and wrestling coach at a high school near Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s.
Prosecutors recommended that Hastert serve up to a six-month prison term, but Judge Thomas Durkin told Hastert he could face up to five years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced in February.
After leaving Congress, Hastert became a highly paid lobbyist. He was indicted in May in Chicago, accused of making $1.7 million in withdrawals from his accounts from 2010 to 2014, structuring many of them for less than $10,000 - the threshold for cash transfers that could be questioned by the government.
Hastert was accused of lying to investigators about his reasons for withdrawing the funds. In exchange for his guilty plea on the banking violation, prosecutors are dropping the charge that he lied to investigators.
Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.