Hastert victim joins push to end statute of limitations on child sex crimes

Months after confronting his famous high school wrestling coach during a bombshell court appearance, the man identified as Individual D in a scandalous federal case against former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is once again speaking out publicly, this time urging Illinois lawmakers to eliminate the statute of limitations for certain child sex crimes.

Scott Cross is expected to testify Tuesday in downtown Chicago before a state Senate committee considering legislation that gets rid of the deadlines for prosecuting more than two dozen felony crimes involving sexual offenses against children. The crimes include aggravated criminal sexual abuse and assault and indecent solicitation of a child, trafficking, and grooming.

In the Hastert case, federal prosecutors cited the expired statute of limitations as the reason they prosecuted him on banking law violation charges rather than for inappropriately touching several underage boys, including Cross, decades ago when Hastert was a trusted teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School.

Hastert is serving a 15-month federal prison sentence in Rochester, Minn., on charges related to the way he structured bank withdrawals to pay off another victim, known as Individual A, who demanded $3.5 million from his former coach in exchange for his silence.

Cross, 54, a successful west suburban businessman, came forward after the federal indictment was announced after several months of internal strife as he struggled with feelings of anger, guilt and shame.

The Senate hearing will mark the first time he's spoken publicly about the case since delivering an emotional victim-impact statement in April at Hastert's sentencing hearing.

"Hastert inflicted unbelievable pain on the lives of the youth he was entrusted to care for, yet he got a slap on the wrist," Cross told the Tribune on Monday. "As hard as it is to continue to live through the events of the past, the laws in Illinois — and across the country — have to change.

"Dennis Hastert silenced his victims as a teacher and coach through the power he had over them. As he ascended to political power and seemingly became untouchable, the pain and suffering of survivors got buried. Hastert had the power, prestige and law on his side."

Cross is backing legislation spearheaded by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to eliminate the statute of limitations for some 26 felony sex crimes against children.

Hastert, 74, is expected to be paroled next August.

"Hastert is rightly in prison and for the rest of history, he will be a national disgrace," Cross said. "Hastert's only political legacy should be that his crimes, and complete lack of repentance, led to changing laws that empowered survivors over their sexual abusers."

Similar bills have been proposed unsuccessfully in the past in Illinois and often faced opposition from criminal defense associations whose members argue it places an unfair burden on those accused of such crimes who are forced to defend themselves against often decades-old allegations.

But Madigan said the Illinois legislation mirrors a national trend due to other high-profile prosecutions, including those involving comedian Bill Cosby and that of a Stanford University student sentenced to six months in prison for a rape case.

The state of California recently abolished the statute of limitations for rape and child molestation. Seventeen other states have eliminated the statute of limitations on rape. And, in June, Colorado doubled the amount of time from 10 to 20 years, and Nevada extended its time limit from four to 20 years in 2015.

Madigan said the Hastert case, unfortunately, serves as a perfect example why such proposed legislation is needed.

"We shouldn't set an arbitrary cutoff date for people who may take a lifetime to process and recover and eventually be comfortable with coming forward," she said.

Before speaking out publicly, Cross privately had told the Tribune he was victimized in the fall of 1979 when he was wrestling team captain. Because of his uncertainty about coming forward at the time, given its possible implications on his family and work in the financial services community, Cross had asked the Tribune to keep his identity confidential until he spoke out publicly. The Tribune honored his wishes.

He is a younger brother of former Hastert political ally Tom Cross, who is the former longtime Illinois House GOP leader. Tom Cross also is expected to attend Tuesday's Senate hearing in support of his brother.

cmgutowski@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @christygutowsk1

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
28°