Prior to his indictment I knew almost nothing about the man other than he was a Republican Congressman who had gained the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives to the surprise of many. Others seemed more apt for the position but a compromise candidate had to be found and Denny was selected. He served his term as Speaker and faded off into the sunset. I did not know he had become a lobbyist although if I thought about it I would have guessed that is one thing he might have done. I did not know he became rich, or relatively rich, during his years in Congress but again that would not have been surprising. I thought he came from somewhere in the upper middle western part of the U.S. without knowing the state because that seems to be the place people not too hot or too cold dwell.
I ask are you or I or our country better off that we now suspect that he had inappropriate sexual relationships with boys during the time he was a high school teacher outside of Chicago? Would there have been something so terribly wrong to let the public notice of it pass and not stain his reputation?
Having been a prosecutor in a position where I made decisions on things like this I could not help wondering what I would have done. How would I have used my prosecutorial discretion? Yes, that is right, I did not bring a prosecution against every person who I had reason to believe committed a crime. I sometimes thought the better course was doing something else or nothing. To quote Brendan Sullivan, I was not a potted plant. My job demanded that I make those decisions.
Here’s what I figured happened in Denny’s case. Let us assume that he had inappropriate sexual relations with Boy, a high school student when he was a teacher. At some point in the last six years Boy confronted him about it saying he would go public unless he was paid money to keep his mouth shut. It wasn’t going to be a small amount that would buy his silence; he wanted many millions but they settled on 3.4 million. He wanted it in cash.
Denny started to pay him. At some point some federal got wind of it. They put a tail on Denny to see what he was doing with these cash withdrawals. They quickly found out he was giving the money to Boy. They checked on where the money Denny was transferring came from and found it was legitimate; they checked the background of Boy and found he was not a criminal. Unable to figure out why they were doing this they confronted Boy and Denny.
Boy either right away or after being pressured (“you’ll spend the rest of life in prison for extortion and income tax evasion”) told them the story. They went to Denny and asked him about the withdrawals. He lied about them at first. Then they told him they knew about Boy.
Now let us assume the matter came across my desk as the prosecutor.
Reviewing the facts I would see I could charge Denny with two minor felonies each having a penalty of five years in prison: 1:/ of evading bank regulations by withdrawing $952,000 in increments of less than $10,000 to skirt reporting requirements designed to deter money laundering, and, 2:/ lying to the FBI about the reason for the unusual withdrawals. I would know the crime involving the money existed not to thwart blackmailers but drug dealers; and with respect to the FBI agent I’d understand that if Denny were paying off someone to keep his mouth shut he was not going to admit doing it to an FBI agent because that would defeat the purpose of all those payments. The FBI agent would ask why and the cat would be out of the bag.
I would know I could not charge him with anything relating to his sexual misconduct. Even if I believed he was a sleaze while Speaker I had no charges for that. I would know the offenses I could charge him with are bottom rung offenses and that Denny would not be imprisoned. I would also know that once I charged him the matter would become a highly publicized case and that I would forever ruin Denny’s reputation. I would also know that Boy had committed crimes but he was getting a pass and that he was willing to take money in recompense for his injury.
In other words by indicting him all I would really accomplish is to let the world know (through the inevitable federal leaks) that Denny as a young teacher was involved sexually with Boy 40 or more years earlier.
I think I would have had Boy and Denny into the office. I would have worked out a voluntary agreement between them and settled the matter. I would understand that Denny was not going to be further punished for his sexual offenses on Boy or any other he may have violated when he was a young teacher. The statute of limitations had long passed.
I would not have indicted him because the only purpose in doing that would be to shame him. That was not part of my job.