Jesse Jackson Jr. sentenced to 30 mos. in prison; Sandi Jackson gets 1 year

August 14, 2013 8:23:56 PM PDT
Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has been sentenced to 30 months in prison plus three years probation after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds. His wife, former Chicago alderman Sandi Jackson, has been sentenced to 12 months.

Sandi Jackson, 49, pleaded guilty to filing false joint federal income tax returns that understated the income the couple received.

Jackson Jr. will serve his 2.5-year sentence before his wife goes to prison. He will report to prison after November 1.

In a press release Wednesday night, Reverend Jesse Jackson said he was proud of his son as he stood before the judge and took responsibility for his actions.

"This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for our family. I speak really today as a father. Jesse's been very sick. This time a year ago I really thought we may have lost him. I think he's strong enough now to accept the challenges put before him by the judge. But this has been a very painful journey for our family," said Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow PUSH coalition.

"We were hoping for probation but Sandi and her family are grateful to serve Sandi's prison sentence after Jesse Jackson serves his sentence," said Dan Webb, Sandi Jackson's attorney.

As for his own family, the judge asked the former congressman why he requested a prison camp far from Washington where his wife and school-age children live?

"I asked for Alabama so I could be as far away from everybody as I could be for a while," said Jackson Jr.

Jackson Jr.'s own attorney Reid Weingarten remarked "the system worked," and acknowledged the sentence was fair for the wrongdoing the couple participated in. Sandi Jackson's attorney Dan Webb said his client was grateful for the judge's allowance that the couple serve their sentences consecutively.

"I still believe in the power of forgiveness. I believe in the power of redemption. Today, I manned up and tried to accept responsibility for the errors of my ways," Jackson Jr. said after court.

"She now is going to move forward into this period of time where she's going to be with her children, get them through this difficult time and rebuild her life," Webb said.

The tearful former congressman and his wife took the stand separately in front of U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson and a packed courtroom Wednesday at their sentencing hearing.

Berman Jackson said that as a public official Jackson Jr. was supposed to live up to a higher standard.

Jackson Jr., 48, the son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois' 2nd congressional district from 1995 until he resigned last November.

"This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for our family," said Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rainbow PUSH founder.

According to court papers in the case, Jackson Jr. used campaign money to buy items, including a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch. Berman Jackson said the Jacksons used campaign funds as a "personal piggybank." Then she added: "This was a knowing, organized, joint misconduct that was repeated and covered up."

Sandi Jackson admitted in a guilty plea earlier this year that from mid-2006 through mid-October of last year, she failed to report $600,000 in income that she and her husband earned from 2005 to 2011.

In her remarks, the judge addressed a "political class of corruption." As recently as the 1980s, many politicians used their campaign money for personal use, a defense lawyer argued. The judge pointed out that practice never existed legally while Jackson Jr. was in office.

The judge said she also did not have enough information from Jackson Jr.'s doctors about his reported bipolar disorder. There has been speculation that was part of the reason that the Jacksons pleaded guilty, that the Jacksons did not want the case to go to trial because expert witnesses would talk about the extent of Jackson Jr.'s mental state and his illness.

Rev. Jackson wrote a letter to the court saying the disorder was so severe that at one point, Jackson Jr. wouldn't drink water because he thought it was dirty.

"He is still in recovery. Jesse has been very sick. This time a year ago I thought we may have lost him. I think he's strong enough now to accept the challenges put before him by the judge," Rev. Jackson said.

The judge told Jackson Jr. specifically that she thought he was a good congressman and had done a lot of good acts. She brought up the fact that as a congressman for 13 years, Jackson Jr. never missed a vote. All of that changed as the federal squeeze on him continued to play out, and then the bipolar diagnosis emerged.

The crime that started all of this began long before Jackson Jr. hopped on the federal government's radar. Former governor Rod Blagojevich found himself in the crosshairs of the FBI for his dealings with the Senate seat left vacant by President Barack Obama.

The feds were investigating whether Blagojevich had authorized an emissary to agree to provide money for the former governor's campaign. During that investigation, Jackson Jr.'s campaign funds were scrutinized. Then Jackson Jr. came forward to disclose the misuse.

Campaign fund misuse included spending on new appliances for the Jacksons' home on the South Side of Chicago, bedroom furniture for their townhome in Washington, mounted elk heads, a trip to Walt Disney World, and mundane spending like trips to Costco, the drugstore and dry cleaners. The judge made the point that Sandi enjoyed the perks, so she would have to face the consequences as well.

The family's current, primary residence is in Washington, and they are expected to remain there. Their children attend a D.C. private school. The DuPont Circle home was at one time listed for sale.

Berman Jackson ruled Wednesday the Jacksons would need to repay the $750,000 taken from the campaign, but she rebuffed a prosecution request that the Jacksons pay an additional $750,000 in restitution. Jackson Jr. said at one time he thought he could repay the campaign money by October.

The Judge: Berman Jackson -- has an extensive legal career. The Harvard graduate was appointed as a United States district judge in March of 2011. Prior to that, she was engaged in private practice in Washington as a member of Trout Cacheris, where she specialized in complex criminal and civil trials and appeals. From 1980 to 1986, Judge Jackson served as an assistant United States attorney for the District of Columbia.

Pleas for Leniency

In his plea to the judge before sentencing, Jackson Jr. admitted he made mistakes. Sandi Jackson put on sunglasses in the courtroom as her husband made his argument.

"I was wrong and I don't fault anyone," Jackson Jr. said. "I also want to apologize to my dad and my mother... because I am an example for the whole family."

Jackson Jr. then asked the court to punish him, but not his wife.

"I've asked the government and this court to hold me and only me accountable... give me her time," he said. "What she did was a subset of what I did, a culture I allowed to exist."

Jackson asked to be sent to an Alabama prison, even though there is one closer to Washington, D.C.

"I asked for Alabama so I could be as far away from everybody as I could be for awhile," Jackson Jr. said. Sandi Jackson is expected to serve at a Florida women's prison.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson and other Jackson family members were also at the courthouse with the couple.

Sandi Jackson testified next. She had to pause to regain her composure as she asked the federal judge for mercy.

They have two children, a 13-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. Sandi Jackson choked up as she read a statement, saying her "heart breaks every day with the pain" she caused my children.

Webb asked for probation for Mrs. Jackson, saying a prison term "would be an unbearable burden" on the children.

Jackson Jr. faced up to four years in federal prison. His wife could have gotten 18 months.

Jackson Investigation Timeline

It's been a long road leading to this point for Jesse Jackson Jr. He was first elected to Congress in December of 1995 after winning a special election to replace embattled Representative Mel Reynolds.

His personal problems began to unravel in June of 2012 when Jackson took a medical leave from Congress. A month later, his office reported that he was being treated for a mood disorder.

in august of last year -- the mayo clinic in rochester minnesota said jackson was being treated for bipolar disorder.

In November, sources revealed Jackson was negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors who were investigating him and his finances. A few weeks later, he resigned from Congress, citing health issues in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. In it, he said the constituents of the 2nd District deserve a full-time legislator in Washington -- something he could not be -- for the foreseeable future.

Then in February of this year, federal charges were filed against the former congressman and his wife. Five days later, they both pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against them.

Federal Reaction

Prosecutors and the Justice Department have released strong statements criticizing the Jacksons.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen writes:
"Jesse Jackson Junior's journey from the halls of Congress to federal prison is a tragedy of his own making.
"The prison sentence imposed today should serve as a wake-up call to other public officials who believe there are no consequences for betraying the public trust."

Richard Weber - IRS Criminal Investigation Division chief - writes:
"This case exposed layers of greed and corruption masked by the illusion of success.
"The Jacksons were granted the privilege of political office to better the lives of others but used it instead for their own selfish benefit."

Valerie Parlave -- the assistant FBI director-in-charge -- said:
"Mr. Jackson and his wife selfishly supported themselves with campaign funds and went to great lengths to hide their illegal activity...
"But they can hide no more as they pay the price with today's sentences."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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