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The National Wrestling Hall of Fame has thrown disgraced former House Speaker Dennis Hastert out of its ring of honor, the organization said Monday — the first time it has ever taken such an action.
Hastert, a Republican who represented Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives and rose to become speaker, was sentenced last week to 15 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to making illegal cash withdrawals.
The money was used to pay one of four men who have accused Hastert of having sexually abused them when he was their high school wrestling coach decades ago, according to federal prosecutors.
The Hall of Fame said its Board of Governors voted unanimously to revoke all of the honors it had bestowed over the years on Hastert, who was inducted to the hall in 2003. Among the honors are the organization's highest awards — the Order of Merit and the Outstanding American Award.
"In the 40 years since it was founded, the National Wrestling Hall of Fame has never had to remove an individual who had received one of its highest awards," said Lee Roy Smith, executive director of the Hall of Fame, which is based in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The hall's Ethics Committee found that Hastert "acted in a manner considered detrimental to the ideals and objectives and contrary to the mission statement of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame," the organization said in a statement.
As coach of the Yorkville High School wrestling team, Hastert won an Illinois state championship and 14 conference championships, while eight of his wrestlers won individual state championships. In 1976, he was elected president of the National Wrestling Congress, an advocacy group for amateur wrestling.
But also during that time, Hastert was abusing underage boys, according to allegations in a lawsuit brought by one of his former students, who said Hastert sexually abused him at a motel when he was 14 years old. Federal prosecutors said Hastert paid the alleged victim $1.7 million to remain silent.
Hastert has never been charged with sexual abuse because the statute of limitations has expired. But in his plea agreement last week, he acknowledged having made the illegal cash payments, and in addition to his jail time, he was ordered to enroll in a sex-offender treatment program by U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin, who called him a "serial child molester."