WASHINGTON (AP) — A Montana woman says her brother was sexually abused by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert during the years when the GOP leader was a wrestling coach at a suburban Chicago high school.
Jolene Burdge of Billings, Montana, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the FBI interviewed her last month about Hastert, who was charged last week in a federal indictment alleging that he agreed in 2010 to pay $3.5 million to someone so that person would stay quiet about “prior misconduct.”
Fifteen years before Hastert allegedly promised to pay that money, Burdge’s brother died. But years before his death, his sister said, he told her that his first homosexual contact was with Hastert and that it lasted throughout his high school years.
Stephen Reinboldt attended Yorkville High School, where Hastert was a history teacher and coach from 1965 to 1981.
In an interview aired Friday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Burdge said Hastert had been a father figure to her brother but also caused him irreparable harm.
“He damaged Steve, I think, more than any of us will ever know,” she told the TV show.
The AP could not independently verify her allegations.
A friend and former classmate of Reinboldt’s said Reinboldt told him in 1974, during college, that he’d had a sexual relationship with Hastert in high school. That friend spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity so as not to betray a personal confidence.
A person familiar with the allegations in the indictment has told the AP that the payments mentioned in the document were intended to conceal claims that the Illinois Republican sexually molested someone decades ago. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Hastert has not been charged with sexual abuse. But Burdge’s story indicates there could be more victims beyond the “Individual A” named in the indictment.
The former congressman has not appeared in public or addressed any of the allegations since he was indicted. He did not respond to a message left on his cellphone Friday. Emails and phone messages sent to his son, Ethan Hastert, also went unanswered.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment on Burdge’s allegations.
Reinboldt died in Los Angeles in 1995 at age 42. Burdge told ABC that he died of AIDS.
An obituary published in The (Aurora) Beacon News said Reinboldt had “a unique and fascinating mind” and was drawn to the arts, especially film, drama and music.
He was a manager of the wrestling team that Hastert coached, the AP found. He was also manager of the football team, student council president and a member of the pep club, letterman’s club, the French club and the yearbook staff.
Reinboldt graduated in 1971 and later moved to the Los Angeles area, where he worked for Columbia Pictures in sales and distribution. He also worked for several software companies.
“He wanted to be in TV and film and all that,” his brother, Daniel Reinboldt, told the AP on Thursday. “He went to New York and L.A., back and forth, trying to get into the movie business.”
On Thursday, Daniel Reinboldt, who still lives in Yorkville, refused to talk to the AP about whether his brother was abused by Hastert. Another sister, Carol Reinboldt, of Lakewood, Colorado, did not respond to messages.
Burdge said her brother told her about his past with Hastert in 1979, after she graduated high school, but never brought his story out into the open because he feared “nobody would believe him.”
“He never had a life,” she said. “He spent his life trying to run away from it and trying to dull the pain.”
The federal indictment, announced May 28, accuses Hastert of evading bank regulations by withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in smaller increments and lying to the FBI about the reason for the withdrawals. The document says Hastert agreed to pay someone identified only as “Individual A” to “compensate for and conceal (Hastert’s) prior misconduct” against that person. But it does not go into any detail about the alleged misconduct.
Hastert, who has a home in the Chicago suburb of Plano, resigned from the Washington lobbying firm where he worked.
Burdge said she considered telling her brother’s story in 2006, as a scandal involving Rep. Mark Foley unfolded. Foley, a Florida Republican, was discovered sending inappropriate emails and sexually explicit instant messages to former House pages while Hastert was speaker. Burdge spoke briefly with news outlets, including the AP, but she ultimately decided against coming forward with a statement at that time.
Hastert was later criticized for failing to follow up on warnings about Foley’s conduct. He stepped down in 2007 after Republicans lost control of the House.
In the last six months, Burdge said, she had started to put her brother’s story “on the shelf” trying to move past it. Then the FBI visited her home.
Today, she said, she is hopeful that any other victims come forward.
“We can help each other,” Burdge said.