CHICAGO -- A federal judge agreed Thursday to delay Dennis Hastert's sentencing in a hush-money case after his attorney said the former U.S. House speaker nearly died in November from severe sepsis.
U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin set April 8 as the new sentencing date for the 74-year-old Illinois Republican instead of Feb. 29 after a defense attorney explained that Hastert is largely immobile.
Days after pleading guilty to violating bank laws in seeking to pay someone $3.5 million in hush money, Hastert was hospitalized on Nov. 3 for a blood infection that spread to his spine, attorney John Gallo said.
"He nearly died that week," he said.
Assistant U.S. attorney Steven Block told the judge the government didn't object to pushing back sentencing this time, but that it shouldn't be put off indefinitely.
"There are victims in this case and they deserve closure," Block said.
Hastert was accused in May of evading banking regulations as part of a plan to pay someone referred to in court documents only as "Individual A" to conceal "prior misconduct." CBS News and other media outlets have reported that Hastert wanted to hide claims that he sexually molested someone decades earlier.
Gallo said Thursday that Hastert can't dress or bathe himself, and only recently walked up a couple of stairs. Hastert, who became rich through lobbying work and real estate investments, is relying heavily on home care, Gallo added.
"But for the 24-hour care, he would be in a nursing home," he said.
In answer to repeated questions from the judge about Hastert's mental health, Gallo said his client suffered what he called "a small stroke" in the hospital but is "lucid."
Durkin responded that, "other than the physical issue, there should be no reason" Hastert couldn't help prepare for sentencing, including by talking to court officials as they work up a pre-sentencing report.
Hastert pleaded guilty Oct. 28 and in the plea agreement directly acknowledged for the first time that he sought to pay someone to hide misconduct dating back several decades - about the time the longtime GOP leader was a high school wrestling coach.
Prosecutors recommended he serve no more than six months in prison. Hastert's lawyers are likely to ask for probation. Judges often put ailing or even terminally ill defendants behind bars, though they can factor age and health into such decisions.
Hastert was a little-known Illinois lawmaker whose reputation for congeniality helped him ascend the ranks of Congress to become the longest-serving Republican speaker in U.S. history. In January 1999, House Republicans voted for him to succeed Newt Gingrich and he served as speaker from 1999 to 2007.