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Hastert Answers Molestation Accusations: 'I Mistreated Some of My Athletes'

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was sentenced to 15 months in prison today for a hush-money case tied to his molestation of boys as a wrestling coach years before his congressional career.

Hastert, 74, also faces two years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. He got nabbed for evading banking rules while paying off an alleged victim; however, due to the statute of limitations he can’t be charged for sexual offenses.

Hastert struck a plea deal with prosecutors last year, but it was revealed in sentencing documents this month that federal officials believe he molested at least four boys, the youngest 14 years old, during his years as a high school teacher between 1965 and 1981. The filing said Hastert’s acts included “intentional touching” of the students’ genitals and oral sex with a minor, in locations including an empty locker room and motel room.

Judge Thomas M. Durkin lashed out at Hastert as a “serial child molester” during today’s sentencing hearing, and openly regretted he couldn’t give the former congressman more time behind bars.

“Nothing is more disturbing than having ‘serial child molester’ and ‘Speaker of the House’ in the same sentence,” Durkin said.

Hastert said he was “deeply ashamed to be standing before you here today.”

“I know I’m here because I mistreated some of my athletes as a coach,” Hastert added, apologizing “to my constituents and my supporters and also my colleagues I served with.”

“I want to apologize to the boys I mistreated. They looked (up) at me and I took advantage of them.”

Hastert suffered a stroke in November and used a wheelchair to get into court.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest would not comment today on Hastert’s sentence. “This is part of our criminal justice system carrying out its mandate,” he said. “And I don’t have a specific response to it.”

Asked Tuesday if his predecessor should go to prison for his crimes, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the case “heart-wrenching.”

“I can’t — I don’t know the details of exactly what happened. I had his portrait removed from the Capitol because that is not befitting of a former speaker or the kind of standards we uphold for ourselves,” Ryan told CBS.

“I just don’t know the — I don’t know the particulars. I don’t want to get into something I don’t know enough about.”

Some former members of Congress vouched for their old colleague in letters attempting to influence his sentencing.

“He is a good man that loves the Lord,” wrote former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). “He gets his integrity and values from Him. He doesn’t deserve what he is going through. I ask that you consider the man that is before you and give him leniency where you can.”