Jesse L Jackson Jr, the namesake of the famed civil rights leader and once-promising Illinois congressman, has been sentenced to 30 months in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money to fund an extravagant lifestyle.
In an emotional hearing in federal court, Jackson said he failed to separate his personal life from his political activities and “could not have been more wrong.”
Jackson, 48, and his wife, Sandra Stevens Jackson, pleaded guilty in February to using about $750,000 in campaign funds to pay for items such as fur wraps and a gold-plated Rolex watch, in addition to school tuition fees and shopping sprees.
“I misled the American people, I misled the House of Representatives,” a tearful Jackson told US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. “I was wrong and I do not fault anyone.” He asked to serve his term in Alabama, “as far away from everybody for a while”.
Prosecutors said Jackson was driven by “greed and entitlement,” and asked Judge Berman to sentence him to a prison term of four years.
In court, Assistant US Attorney Matthew Graves called Jackson’s crimes “staggering” in part because the couple had sufficient independent financial resources, earning nearly $350,000 in 2011. “These were extreme abuses that strike at the integrity of the campaign finance system,” Graves said.
The defence team asked for a term of less than four years, saying that a shorter term is critical to Jackson’s mental health and that a lengthy sentence would be “devastating” to the couple’s two children – ages 13 and 9.
“His public fall from grace has already made an example of him, warning other politicians and elected officials of the dangers of personal use of campaign funds,” Jackson’s attorneys claimed.
The downfall of the Illinois Democrat began when he was implicated in allegations that then Governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, tried to sell to the highest bidder an interim appointment to the Senate seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama.
Jackson was not charged, but prosecutors investigated allegations that he directed his fundraiser to bring in millions for the governor.
Jackson’s personal life was unravelling, too. Before resigning from the House in mid-November, he disappeared from Washington for several weeks without explanation. He later announced that he was being treated for bipolar disorder.
The plea agreement Jackson signed this year outlined the extent to which the couple did not distinguish between their personal and political finances. The campaign’s office was in Jackson’s basement. His wife, a former Chicago alderman, was his campaign manager.
In letters to the judge, Jackson’s parents tried to provide insight into their son’s conduct.
His mother, Jacqueline Jackson, wrote: “Growing up in the shadow of his father, Jesse Jr. has always tried desperately to live up to the expectations we have had for him. I think perhaps he has tried too hard.”