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Jesse Jackson Jr. guilty plea: 'For years I lived off my campaign' (+video)

Former US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges stemming from use of $750,000 in campaign donations for everything from a Rolex watch and furs to toilet paper and food. His wife, a former Chicago alderman, also pleaded guilty.

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“You would think that if it was compelling enough, it would be used as a reason to say he shouldn’t be prosecuted at all,” Mr. McRae says. “The path of least resistance here, if you are going to try to use this, is in the sentencing phase versus prosecuting phrase.”

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Prosecutors stated in court documents that Jackson diverted campaign funds by directly withdrawing cash, using campaign credit cards for purchases, and diverting campaign money to at least four congressional staff members so they could make purchases for themselves. Machin said his office is “still assessing” what action to take regarding others who may have been involved in the scheme.

The Jacksons bought items from outlets including Best Buy, Build-a-Bear, Ticketmaster, and Costco. The more expensive items, such as $5,150 in fur capes and parkas from Edward Lowell Furrier in Beverly Hills, Calif., and at least $50,000 in Martin Luther King Jr., Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson, and Jimi Hendrix memorabilia from Antiquities of Nevada in Las Vegas, came from boutique outlets and were shipped to their homes in Chicago or Washington. The items will be seized and auctioned off, Machin said.

Prosecutors say the Jacksons used campaign cash to make more than 3,100 personal purchases, including the following: 

  • Restaurants, nightclubs, and lounges ($60,857)
  • Personal airfare ($31,701)
  • Gym memberships and expenses ($16,059)
  • Tobacco shops ($17,163)
  • Dry cleaning ($14,513)
  • Alcohol ($5,814)

Perhaps the most unusual purchase, prosecutors say, was two elk heads, bought from a Montana taxidermist for $8,000 in 2011, which Mr. Jackson mounted on his congressional office wall. The next year, the Jacksons sold the heads to an undercover FBI agent posing as an interior designer.

In November, Jackson announced he was leaving office after 17 years in Congress for mental health reasons and, in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, suggested he was preparing for a federal indictment. At the time, he was under a House ethics investigation concerning his alleged efforts to be appointed by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois to Barack Obama’s newly vacated Senate seat. Jackson denied the allegations. 

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