WLS-TV(NEW YORK) — A man who said he was sexually abused by former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert when he was a teenager came forward Tuesday in emotional testimony, pushing legislators to change a law that he said allows a “monster” like Hastert to get away with the most heinous of crimes.
“This topic, while difficult for me to discuss, is not one that can be swept under the rug,” said Scott Cross, now an Illinois businessman who said he was abused by Hastert when he was 17 years old. “Hastert inflicted unbelievable pain on the lives of the youth he was entrusted to care for, yet he got a slap on the wrist… As hard as is is to continue to live through the events of the past, the laws of Illinois and across the country have to change.”
In April, federal prosecutors alleged that Hastert had abused several young boys while he was the wrestling coach at an Illinois high school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But the wrongdoing had only come to light because Hastert was caught making hush money payments to one of his victims and was charged with a financial crime. The statute of limitations that would have allowed him to be charged with multiple counts of child sex abuse had long passed.
Hastert, 74, pleaded guilty to the financial crime and despite the judge calling him a “serial child molester,” Hastert only received 15 months in prison. The former speaker, once second in line to the presidency, told the court at the time he was “deeply ashamed” and acknowledged that he “mistreated some of [his] athletes.”
For much of the court proceedings against Hastert, Cross was not identified publicly — only in court documents as Individual D, one of the victims not involved in the hush money payments. But at sentencing, he decided to face Hastert.
“He was a key figure of my life as a coach and a teacher,” Cross told the court through tears. “I respected and trusted coach Hastert… It was my darkest secret as he became more powerful.”
Jolene Burdge, the sister of another of Hastert’s alleged victims also not involved in the hush money payments, told ABC News after sentencing that she thought Hastert “got a pass.”
“I think he got a pass because of his power and status. I think he got a back room deal. His victims didn’t get a pass when he put them through the abuse,” said Burdge, whose late brother Steve Reinboldt purportedly confessed to her that he had been abused by Hastert when he was the wrestling team’s equipment manager.
Under current Illinois law, the statute of limitations comes into affect 20 years after the victim of child abuse turns 18 years old. There are some conditions, like if new evidence is available or if someone who should have reported the crime failed to, under which the statute does not apply.
But Cross, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said that in many cases that means that if a child sex abuse victim has not reported the crime by the time they’re 38 years old, the abuser becomes legally protected from prosecution.
“It should offend everyone’s faith in the judicial system that Illinois laws today would still allow sexual child molesters to avoid prosecution from heinous acts of sexual abuse because a survivor didn’t come forward in time,” Cross said Tuesday.
Critics of the abolition of such statutes, however, have previously told ABC News that changing the law could be unconstitutional, if the 20-year rule is not already.
“I personally find the long statute of limitations unconstitutional in that it violates equal protection of the law and due process law both found in the 14th Amendment,” Chicago-area defense attorney Michael Ettinger said in April. “No other crimes have that long of a statute except murder and there is absolutely no rational basis for 20 years after the victim turns 18.”
“How does anyone defend themselves against an allegation of misconduct 20-plus years ago? Put an alibi defense together 20 years later? Statutes of limitations are enacted for that very reason,” Ettinger said.
During a 2003 case, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer lamented, “Memories fade, and witnesses can die or disappear. Such problems can plague child abuse cases, where recollection after so many years may be uncertain and ‘recovered’ memories faulty, but may nonetheless lead to prosecutions that destroy families.”
Cross doesn’t see it that way.
“[Sexual predators] know no bounds, have no decency and are devoid of morals. That’s why Illinois General Assembly should provide sexual predators no safe harbor based on the law based on arbitrary deadlines established by the stroke of a pen,” he said. “Hastert’s only political legacy should be that his crimes and complete lack of repentance led to changing laws that empowered survivors over their sexual abusers.”
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