Photo: AP

Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican Speaker of the House lauded by his political friends and family as “a man of high moral character”—the “best kind of public official,” who “doesn’t deserve what he is going through”—just admitted in open court that he is a serial child molester.

“I mistreated some of my athletes that I coached,” Hastert admitted Wednesday at his sentencing hearing. “I’m deeply ashamed to be standing before you today.”

When the judge specifically asked him if he’d sexually abused a former student named Stephen Reinboldt, Hastert said, “Yes.”

Hastert, who was a child molester long before he was elected to Congress in 1987, is alleged to have abused at least four students during his time as a teacher and wrestling coach at the Yorkville High School.

But he’ll never be charged for those crimes, which expired under Illinois’s statute of limitations, and rightfully should have landed him decades in prison. Instead, he’ll serve fifteen months in prison for banking fraud charges tied to secret payoffs he was making to one of his victims, identified in court papers only as “Victim A.”

His supporters... don’t seem to care. Before his sentencing today, Hastert received letters of support from 60 prominent friends and family members—43 of which were made public—asking the sentencing judge for leniency because of what a good man he is.

“I know his heart and have seen it up close and personal. We all have our flaws but Dennis Hastert has very few,” says Former Majority Leader Tom Delay, who in 2003 sponsored a bill that would have eliminated the statue of limitations on sex crimes involving children. “He doesn’t deserve what he is going through.”

“I know him as a man of faith, integrity and honesty,” says Former U.S. Congressman Thomas W. Ewing in Hastert’s defense.

The list goes on. It does not include testimony from Hastert’s political protegé, Illinois State Rep. Tom Cross—who said he was “speechless” over the allegations involving his “friend”—because Hastert allegedly abused Cross’s brother, Scott. (According to the Chicago Tribune, Cross found out about the alleged abuse sometime before the sentencing portion of the case and declined to participate.)

How could a man like this fool so many people for so long? It helps to understand the climate: