By Maureen McKinney
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife pleaded guilty today in federal court in what prosecutors said was a scheme to use $750,000 in campaign cash for such personal expenses as a $43,350 gold-plated Rolex watch, flat-screen TVs, a cruise and more than $60,000 at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges.
Jackson, 47, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements, while his wife, Sandi, a 49-year-old former Chicago alderwoman, pleaded guilty to one count of willingly filing a false tax return, according to news reports. Between 2005 and 2012, Jackson spent almost $584,000 on about 3,100 purchases made with a campaign credit card, according to federal prosecutors.
The Jacksons used campaign cash to pay down personal credit cards and for more than $30,000 in personal airfare expenses. Jackson Jr. spent $17,163.36 at tobacco shops and collected elk heads from Montana and memorabilia from Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee, Jimi Hendrix and Martin Luther King Jr. One of the expenses cited was $466 dinner for two. Federal prosecutors contend that Jackson Jr. directed that false and misleading reports be sent to to the Federal Elections Commission from August 2005 to July 2012.
The former congressman from Illinois' 2nd District will be sentenced on June 28 and faces a maximum of five years in prison. A 17-year veteran in Congress, Jackson resigned shortly after his victory in the November election, citing health issues and the ongoing federal investigation. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he had been on leave since June of 2012.
“For years, I lived off my campaign. I used money that should have been for campaign purposes for personal purposes,” Jackson said in court, according to news reports. In explaining his decision to plead guilty, Jackson said, “I have no interest in wasting the taxpayers’ time or their money.
“I’m guilty, your honor,” Jackson said.“Tell everybody back home I’m sorry I let them down, OK?” he said outside the courtroom, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
According to the newspaper, “Jackson’s attorney, Reid Weingarten, told the judge he expected to make a substantial presentation at sentencing regarding the serious medical conditions that Jackson faces that could be mitigating factors.”
“That’s not an excuse; that’s just a fact,” Weingarten said outside the courtroom, speaking about Jackson’s mental health.
According to the Chicago Tribune: “Washington defense attorney Stan Brand, the former general counsel of the House of Representatives, said … that Jackson Jr.’s case involved the largest sum of money he’s seen in a case involving personal use of campaign money.”
Brand told the newspaper, “Historically, there have been members of Congress who either inadvertently or maybe purposefully, but not to this magnitude, used campaign funds inappropriately.”
“A reliable liberal, Jackson voted with the Democratic caucus 97 percent of the time,” according to the Washington Post. “He joined House Democrats in pushing for the impeachment of George W. Bush over his handling of the Iraq war, opposed the 2008 financial industry bailout and fought to abolish the Electoral College and for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing high-quality public education for all U.S. citizens.”
Sandi Jackson is scheduled to be sentenced on July 1.