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Former House Speaker Hastert Pleads Guilty

CHICAGO (CN) - Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert pleaded guilty Wednesday to trying to evade banking laws by structuring withdrawals, allegedly as hush money for decades-old molestation allegations.

In the works for several weeks now, the plea all but ensures that Hastert, 73, will never testify about the molestation claims that his attorneys had decried as "an 800-pound gorilla that has been injected in the case impermissibly and wrongfully."

Hastert, who had been the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House, arrived in a packed courtroom today and stared straight ahead until U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin came in.

Speaking in a hushed tone, Hastert explained that his age played a role in the decision and that no one forced him to plead guilty.

The maximum sentence he faces is five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years supervised release, but prosecutor Steven Block noted that Hastert "should receive a two-level reduction for accepting responsibility."

"Do you understand the offense portion of the plea deal?" Durkin asked.

"I think so, yes," the visibly exhausted Hastert replied.

Durkin replied: "I won't be able to determine what my sentence will be until I see the presentence investigation report."

"I have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt to accept your plea," the judge added.

Block then began outlining the various facts that would have been used at trial against Hastert. Such evidence included Hastert's banking-withdrawal history and an agreement with the person Hastert allegedly molested to keep quiet in exchange for $3.5 million. The individual is said to have received only $1.7 million from Hastert.

When bank representatives questioned Hastert about cash withdrawals in April 2012, Hastert "started withdrawing smaller increments under $10,000," Block said.

The prosecutor said Hastert hoped "to evade transaction reporting requirements because he wanted his agreement with Individual A to remain secret."

"Individual A," as he is described in court records, is believed to be a boy Hastert coached on an Illinois high school wrestling team where the congressman taught from 1965 until 1981.

Hastert kept his statement purely financial. "I have been withdrawing money from the bank in $50,000 increments," the former congressman said.

As for why he started making $9,000 withdrawals after bank warned him, Hastert said he "didn't want them to know how I spent the money."

Hastert left the courthouse flanked by his lawyers and U.S. marshals without comment. He faces sentencing on Feb. 29, 2016.

Though prosecutors had also charged Hastert with lying about the withdrawals, Hastert's plea today covers only the withdrawals themselves.

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