It took 20 years for Jolene Reinboldt to have anyone take her story seriously. After her brother Steve died of AIDS in 1995, she was shocked to see Dennis Hastert, her brother’s teacher and coach in high school, show up for the viewing. She followed Hastert out to the parking lot and told him she knew his secret, and then tried for years to get law enforcement and news agencies to investigate it, all to no avail. Two weeks ago, though, the FBI came calling and wanted to hear her story for themselves as part of an investigation into large amounts of cash being moved around by Hastert. ABC News interviewed Reinboldt this morning, who can now tell a story that started in 1979:
In Steve Reinboldt’s 1970 high school yearbook, wrestling coach Dennis Hastert wrote that Steve was his “great, right hand man” as the student equipment manager of the Yorkville, Illinois wrestling team.
But Steve was also a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Hastert, Steve’s sister said today in an interview with ABC News. It is the first time an alleged Hastert victim has been identified by name since his indictment for lying to the FBI and violating federal banking laws to cover-up past misconduct. Hastert, due in court next week, has not responded to the allegations.
In an emotional interview, Steve Reinboldt’s sister Jolene said she first learned of her late brother’s purported years-long sexual abuse at the hands of the future Speaker of the House back in 1979 when her older brother revealed to her that he was gay and had been out of high school for eight years.
“I asked him, when was your first same sex experience. He looked at me and said, ‘It was with Dennis Hastert,’” Jolene said. “I was stunned.” …
Jolene said she wanted to speak publicly on behalf of her family about her brother’s ordeal because she believes there may be other victims and she wanted them to know they’re not alone, “that when they were kids, at that point in their life when they were going through this, it wasn’t talked about like it is now.”
“But now there’s people that are going to believe them,” Jolene said. “I just think it’s really important that these kids get a chance to work through this because I think it’s going to give them a lot of relief… Please, come forward.”
She tried especially hard to get the story out in 2006, during the Mark Foley scandal. ABC notes in the article that it was one of the media outlets she contacted, but they found nothing solid to report. The money-structuring indictment has opened the door to get this story out, with this being the first public identification of an alleged Hastert victim.
The problem for Reinboldt in terms of legal action is twofold, assuming this is true, and that’s still a significant assumption. First, it’s almost certain that the statute of limitations has expired, on top of which the testimony provided is hearsay originating with a deceased person. ABC News didn’t go forward with the story in 2006 probably for the same reasons. The indictment and the circumstances surrounding it give them an opening to report it now (and Hastert’s not saying anything at all these days, let alone issuing denials), but this is as far as it will go for Reinboldt, at least as far as seeking justice for her brother. She knows that, which is why she’s hoping that surviving victims will come forward.
If there are surviving victims, they probably will emerge now that Hastert’s secret is out. It’s possible that Hastert is innocent entirely, although believing a retired politician would pay millions to keep innocence quiet is a stretch. If not, then it’s likely that there are multiple victims. Hastert wasn’t paying Steve Reinboldt the cash, after all, and it wasn’t Jolene’s voice on that strange C-SPAN call last year. Hastert’s pattern of involvement in sports and Explorers as well as teaching certainly gave him opportunities to victimize others, if he was inclined to do so. If this turns out the way Jolene Reinboldt and others suspect, Hastert’s a sick man who should never have been given a public trust in the first place.
None of this mitigates the fact that the money-structuring charges against Hastert are questionable at best. Those laws were passed by Congress as a means to fight the war on drugs, not to snag people for what are otherwise lawful transactions — and paying compensation for past crimes doesn’t break the law, no matter what we think of those crimes. The problem for Hastert is that a jury will want to seek justice for the alleged crimes, perhaps more than they want to question the enforcement of the law that brought those alleged crimes to light. I’d bet that Hastert’s legal team waives a jury trial and hopes to get a judge with some room for skepticism about the prosecution of this case.
In the meantime, Hastert remains “in hiding,” as Brian Ross notes in this report. He’d better get used to it.