The Hastert case seems like a series of injustices

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) received a 15-month sentence in Federal prison for sexual abuse of a young man.  No, it was for laundering excessive amounts of ill-gotten cash.  No, actually, it was merely for “illegally structuring” bank withdrawals to avoid breaching limits that would have required his bank to report the activity to the government.

Note that Hastert is guilty of “illegally structuring” withdrawals, not deposits.  There are laws governing reporting of deposits, to protect against money laundering and tax evasion, which arguably serve a legitimate public policy purpose.  But in this case, Hastert was dealing with his own money.  There was not necessarily anything illegal about what he was doing with the funds; it’s unclear whether he was a blackmail victim, and we don’t expect the Feds to investigate that.

It’s outrageous that there are laws on the books that impose conditions on withdrawing one’s own money, and perhaps even more outrageous that there are laws on the books that criminalize “structuring” withdrawals to avoid running afoul of the underlying laws that are ridiculous to begin with.

Moreover, Hastert must now register as a sex offender, even though he was not convicted of any sexually-based offense.  He presumably agreed to register, as well as to receive some sort of “sex offender treatment,” as part of a plea agreement, but it strikes us as inappropriate that the judge in the case proclaimed, “The defendant is a serial child molester.”

We will insert the compulsory “we don’t condone the sexual abuse of which Hastert is accused, and if he did it, he deserves to be punished.”  Regardless, we consider it a miscarriage of justice that the government can use the threat of long jail time under preposterous financial laws to coerce a defendant to admit conduct that they couldn’t prosecute because of statutes of limitations, and then, as a bonus, the judge can pontificate from the bench on matters not tried.

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