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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.

By Staff writer / February 20, 2013

Former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his legal team arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, Feb. 20.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Chicago

Former US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) of Illinois and his wife, former Chicago alderman Sandi Jackson, pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to charges related to the use of $750,000 in campaign funds for a personal seven-year spending spree.

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Jesse Jackson Jr., once a rising political star, pleaded guilty to charges he spent campaign funds on himself, his family and his house. Dean Reynolds reports on how the former congressman looted the funds of his donors.

A 22-page document released by the US Attorney’s Office Wednesday details ways the couple collaborated to conceal the spending from federal authorities, even as they solicited fresh campaign donations to keep the spigot flowing. It also outlined how the Jacksons spent campaign money on both the sublime (a $43,350 gold-plated Rolex watch, furs, and exclusive sports and celebrity memorabilia) and the mundane (toilet paper, underwear, children’s vitamins, and food).

“Jesse Jackson lied many times over many years to hide this fraud from the government and most importantly, from his constituents,” US Attorney Ron Machin said at a press conference late Wednesday. “It’s important to remember the true victims of Jackson’s crimes. This sort of conduct, I don’t think we’ve ever seen it to this scope if you look at the list of items and the amount spent. His [campaign fund] was his personal piggy bank.”

Both Jacksons broke down in tears several times during their separate hearings in Washington. Mr. Jackson, who was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and false statements, told US District Judge Robert Wilkins he wished to waive his right to a trial because he has “no interest in wasting the taxpayers’ time or their money.”

“For years I lived off my campaign. I used money that should have been for campaign purposes, and I used them for myself personally,” he said.

Ms. Jackson, who is charged with a single tax crime, also waived her right to a trial and is set for sentencing July 1. Her husband, scheduled for sentencing June 28, faces a possible prison term of nearly five years and a fine of up to $100,000. Sandi Jackson faces a possible prison term of nearly two years.

Under the plea agreement, Mr. Jackson will be sentenced to between 46 and 57 months. His lead attorney, Reid Weingarten, is likely to argue for the shorter sentence on grounds that bipolar depression, a diagnosis Jackson received last fall, contributed to his actions.

Mr. Machin, however, noted Wednesday that Jackson “was an efficient congressman” during the seven years in question and capably made numerous public appearances, including a speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. “It’s hard for me to imagine how they’re going to reconcile this scheme and it being a byproduct of a recent medical condition,” he said.

Marcellus McRae, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Los Angeles, says that because Mr. Weingarten did not use the medical condition as a factor to fight the indictment, it may not be a strong enough argument.

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