The tearful former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife took the stand separately in front of a judge and packed courtroom Wednesday at their sentencing hearing.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Wednesday that as a public official Jackson was supposed to live up to a higher standard.
Jackson, 48, the son of civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November.
According to court papers in the case, he 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."
Jackson Jr. admitted he made mistakes.
"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 has 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.
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. The 49-year-old Sandi Jackson choked up as she read a statement, saying her "heart breaks every day with the pain" she caused my children.
Her attorney is Dan Webb. He asked for probation, saying a prison term "would be an unbearable burden" on the children.
Prosecutors have said the couple's sentences could be staggered to help care for the children.
From rising star to fallen felon -- Jackson Jr. is facing up to four years in federal prison. On Tuesday night, his family gathered at the Washington, D.C., home of Rev. Jackson.
A Jackson family friend who arrived at the home Tuesday evening asked for privacy and respect, saying this is a personal matter.
"It's not a proud day. I'm sorry I let everybody down," said Jesse Jackson Jr., while leaving a court in February.
On the eve of the court hearing, Jackson Jr. asked the judge to seal details about his bipolar disorder.
The illness figures prominently in his pleas for leniency. But the Bureau of Prisons responded that its doctors are more than capable of treating him.
Sandi Jackson, who is facing a maximum of 18 months, also made a request. She's asking for probation and promises to perform community service at a Washington, D.C., food pantry visited by presidents.
"I think one of the things that's going concern the judge is how much genuine remorse is there?" said Richard Kling, IIT Kent College of Law.
How did a once-shooting political star fall so far?
In court filings, prosecutors point out Jackson looted his campaign fund for seven years to the tune of $750,000.
Prosecutors wrote: "Getting embroiled in the Blagojevich scandal did not make [Jackson] stop stealing. Instead, his reaction was to devise new ways of stealing."
Stanley Brand is Washington criminal defense attorney who once represented Dan Rostenkowski. He says for some, sentencing day is actually a relief.
"The pressure that comes from being under federal investigation for this length of time over serious matters certainly has to take its toll," said Stanley Brand, Washington, D.C., criminal defense attorney.
One interesting footnote: the judge once represented a former congressman who was convicted of bribery. In that case, she argued that he deserved leniency because of all of his years of public service. The Jacksons were expected to make a similar argument Wednesday morning.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.