CHICAGO (AP) — Lawyers for former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert asked a federal judge on Friday to delay sentencing in his hush-money case because of his recent hospitalization for a stroke, as well as for spinal and blood infections — saying he has difficulty walking and will require at least several weeks of rehabilitation.
The Illinois Republican, who turned 74 this month, has been unable to prepare with his lawyers for his Feb. 29 sentencing because of his lingering health issues, according to his attorneys' three-page filing in U.S. District Court in Chicago. The document doesn't request a specific new date for sentencing but suggests that a status hearing be held on March 7.
Hastert was accused in May of evading banking regulations as part of a plan to pay $3.5 million in hush money to conceal "prior misconduct." The Associated Press and other media outlets, citing anonymous sources, have reported that Hastert wanted to hide claims that he sexually molested someone decades earlier.
The motion requesting the delay says Hastert was admitted to the hospital in the first week of November — just several days after he pleaded guilty to a felony count of evading bank reporting laws — and wasn't released until Jan. 15. It adds that Hastert needs up to six weeks of in-home care that will likely be followed by outpatient physical therapy.
"Mr. Hastert continues to need assistance for most daily activities, and also needs both a walker and a leg brace to walk in his household," the filing says. "He will also need close follow up with several specialists during this process."
"When home care is complete," the filing goes on to say, "Mr. Hastert will likely be recommended for outpatient physical therapy, which could last between six and twelve additional weeks depending upon the course of recovery," the filing says.
Friday's filing doesn't say which ailment first prompted Hastert's hospitalization or whether some of his health issues arose in the hospital. It does say the spinal infection required surgery and it described the blood infection as "serious."
The filing says Hastert's lawyers have been in touch with prosecutors and that they don't object to putting sentencing off. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, Joseph Fitzpatrick, declined comment other than to say: "We are in receipt of the motion and are reviewing it."
Hastert pleaded guilty Oct. 28. In the written plea agreement, he directly acknowledged for the first time that he sought to pay someone the $3.5 million to hide misconduct by Hastert against that person dating back several decades — about the time the longtime GOP leader was a high school wrestling coach.
Hastert had allegedly paid more than $1.7 million to the person, sometimes in lump sums of $100,000 cash, by the time the scheme was discovered. The indictment said the payments stopped after FBI agents first questioned Hastert in December 2014.
Prosecutors recommended he serve no more than six months in prison. Hastert's lawyers are likely to ask for probation. Judges often put ailing or even terminally ill defendants behind bars, though they can factor age and health into decisions on punishment.
Hastert was a little-known Illinois lawmaker whose reputation for congeniality helped him ascend the ranks of Congress to become the longest-serving Republican speaker in U.S. history. In January 1999, House Republicans voted for him to succeed Newt Gingrich, who had lost support because of ethics violations and the party's poor showing in the 1998 midterm election. He served as speaker from 1999 to 2007.
Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm