- Associated Press - Monday, September 28, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) — Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s attorneys are talking with prosecutors about a possible plea deal in the Republican’s hush-money case, both sides told a federal judge Monday.

The disclosure came during a federal court hearing in Chicago, though details weren’t immediately released. Hastert didn’t attend the hearing. A judge set an Oct. 15 for updates in the discussions.

A May indictment alleges that Hastert agreed to pay $3.5 million to someone identified only as “Individual A” to hide past misconduct. The Associated Press and other media, citing anonymous sources, have reported the payments were intended to conceal claims of sexual misconduct decades ago.

Hastert lives just west of Chicago, near Yorkville, where he was a teacher and coached high school wrestling until 1981.

Authorities allege that Hastert structured cash withdrawals in increments of just under $10,000 in an attempt to avoid reporting rules, and when questioned about it by the FBI, said he was taking the money out because he didn’t trust banks.

Hastert has pleaded not guilty to violating banking laws and lying to the FBI. He’s free on bond.

Defendants typically agree to change a plea to guilty in hopes of a more lenient sentence. It also avoids the stress and potential embarrassment of a trial. A deal would mean that “Individual A,” whose identity has never been made public, would not have to testify.

The indictment does not detail the alleged misconduct, and both prosecutors and defense attorneys have taken steps to keep the information confidential. Hastert and his lawyers have not commented on the allegations included in the indictment or the additional information provided to the media.

Hastert’s lead attorney, Thomas C. Green, argued that the allegations in the media of past sexual misconduct - which he blamed on government leaks - had presented a quandary for the defense. He said it could undermine Hastert’s right to a fair trial.

“The indictment has effectively been amended by leaks from the government,” Green said at a July hearing. “(It) is now an 800-pound gorilla in this case.”

Green, a nationally prominent Washington-based attorney, told the judge he was stumped about whether to ignore the sexual misconduct allegations as he prepared for trial.

It’s unclear if claims not in the indictment would have had any relevance at a trial, during which prosecutors would likely have focused narrowly on mundane aspects of U.S. banking law. But they could have been raised in testimony regarding motive.

___

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.


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