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Dennis Hastert Sentencing: Here's What You Need to Know About Scandal

Prosecutors Say Former Speaker Hastert Sexually Abused 4 Boys 2:22

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert will be sentenced in federal court Wednesday morning, capping a sex-abuse scandal that unspooled last May with an indictment detailing financial funny business — and hinting at a far more sordid secret.

Here's what you need to know about the case — from why they call Hastert the "Accidental Speaker" to the easy chair he positioned in front of a high-school boys' locker room.

Who is Dennis Hastert anyway?

Hastert, 74, was the longest-serving GOP Speaker of the House in history, presiding from 1999 to 2007. He was nicknamed the "Accidental Speaker" because he was catapulted from a junior position to a job two heartbeats away from the Oval Office after Newt Gingrich was forced out and a likely successor was doomed by an extramarital affair.

On Capitol Hill, Hastert was more often called "Coach," a nod to his humble beginnings as a teacher and wrestling instructor at Yorkville High School in Illinois before he became a state legislator and ran for Congress. Married since 1973, Hastert has two sons — both of whom joined pols like Tom DeLay and Porter Goss in writing letters asking the judge to spare him prison.

Flashback: Hastert in the House 2:04

Will Hastert go to jail?

There's a good chance he will. Under the terms of Hastert's plea deal, prosecutors are recommending a six-month sentence. The defense, citing his statements of "remorse" as well as some serious health problems, is asking for probation.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin — who donated to Hastert's 2002 and 2004 re-election campaigns — has signaled that he's not inclined to go easy on the former politician, blasting him during one hearing for a lie he told federal agents.

Wait — only six months for sexually abusing four boys?

Here's where it gets complicated. Although prosecutors allege in court filings that Hastert molested four students decades ago, he isn't charged with any sexual crime because the statute of limitations has long passed.

Steve Reinboldt, the equipment manager for the wrestling team, left, and Dennis Hastert, the wrestling coach, appear in a 1970 Yorkville High School Yearbook photo. Yorkville High School Yearbook

He was indicted for "structuring" cash withdrawals — repeatedly taking out $9,000 from four different banks to avoid the requirement, under the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, that any transaction over $10,000 be reported to regulators. (Hastert, by the way, was a big supporter of the Patriot Act).

He was also indicted for lying to investigators probing the suspicious financial activity, though that charge fell by the wayside in the plea deal.

The FBI says it had no inkling of sexual abuse when it began probing the withdrawals. In fact, it was Hastert who led them down that road when he had his lawyers tell agents that he was being extorted by a former student who had made up a molestation claim. Investigators say they soon concluded the accuser was not lying and found others who said they were abused.

What do the four accusers say happened?

Individual A, the man who got $1.7 million from Hastert after confronting him in 2010, told investigators that when he was 14, Hastert arranged for them to share a motel room on a wrestling camp trip, massaged his groin under the guise of treating an injury and then stripped to his underwear and requested a backrub.

Individual B says he was also 14 when Hastert began massaging him after a workout to "loosen him up" and then performed an unspecified sex act on the teen.

Individual D says he was 17 when Hastert offered a massage to help him take off some pounds so he could make a certain weight, then performed a sex act on him.

The fourth accusation comes from beyond the grave. Steven Reinboldt, who died of AIDS in 1994, was the team equipment manager. His sister, Jolene Burdge, says he confided that Hastert molested him throughout high school.

Accuser Suing Former Speaker Hastert for $1.8M 1:41

Does Hastert admit he molested the boys?

Not explicitly. His lawyers released a statement on April 9 that said: "Mr. Hastert acknowledges that as a young man, he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry."

In one defense filing, the lawyers suggest the encounter with Individual A might actually have been an innocent massage for an injury but add that Hastert "deeply regrets that the episode occurred." The same filing says that Hastert has no recollection of the incident with Individual D but does not contest that it happened. Prosecutors noted in court papers that Hastert denies he molested Reinboldt, the dead man.

Why did it take so long for these allegations to come out?

The lawyer representing Individual A in a $1.8 million lawsuit against Hastert said that like many who have been sexually abused, he likely blamed himself. He struggled with panic attacks and other problems for years and did not link them to Hastert — until a conversation in 2008 with another man who said he had been abused by the coach made him see himself as a victim, the lawyer said.

Dennis Hastert in a yearbook photo. NBC News

In 2010, Individual A confronted Hastert, who said it had been a "confusing and difficult time in his life" and verbally agreed to pay him $3.5 million for his "pain, suffering and harm," according to court papers. Over the next four years, Hastert paid about half the agreed-upon sum until the FBI probe brought the arrangement to a crashing halt.

The accusations might never have come to light if Hastert had not structured his withdrawals in such a way that it raised red flags. Individual A's lawyer told NBC News he had no interest in going public before the indictment and still wants to stay anonymous.

It's also worth noting that Burdge says she confronted Hastert when he attended Reinboldt's funeral — and that she tipped off at least one media outlet to what happened to her brother about nine years ago, while Hastert was still in office.

Will Individual A testify at the sentencing?

No. But prosecutors have said they expect Burdge and Individual D to take the stand.

It was D who provided prosecutors one of the most vivid details contained in the court papers, recalling "that defendant put a 'Lazyboy'-type chair in direct view of the shower stalls in the locker room where he sat while the boys showered."

Actor Andy Richter, a Yorkville High alum who briefly overlapped with Hastert, said on Twitter that he remembered the chair, which was supposedly there to stop boys from fighting.

"I'm just so struck by how easy it was to do that," he said. "Nobody questioned it."