WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- Former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was
sentenced to 30 months in prison Wednesday for using $750,000 in
campaign money for living expenses, clothes and luxury items.
and his wife, Sandi Jackson, used campaign funds as a "personal piggy
bank," U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told him. "There may be
gray areas in campaign finance This case did not come near to those
"As a public official, you are supposed to live up to a
higher standards of ethics and integrity," said Jackson, no relation to
the former congressman.
The sentence was handed down during a hearing where Jackson tearfully admitted wrongdoing.
take responsibility for my actions and for everything I have done,"
Jackson said, sobbing openly in court as his family looked on.
crime and likely punishment mark a dramatic fall for a man once viewed
as a fast-rising political star in his home state. Jackson, 48, is the
son of civil rights leader and former presidential candidate, Rev. Jesse
Jackson Sr. The senior Jackson and other members of the family were in
The sentence was less than the four-year sentence
sought by prosecutors Jackson who pleaded guilty in February to misusing
Court filings show Jackson treated donors' money
as his own, spending lavishly on luxury goods and services, including a
$43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch, $5,687 for a "holistic retreat"
in Martha's Vineyard and more than $5,000 on capes and fur parkas. He
also used campaign funds for more commonplace expenses, such as dry
cleaning and toothpaste purchased from Costco.
His lawyer Reid
Weingarten pleaded for leniency, saying Jackson is a "good person" whose
judgment was impaired by his bipolar disorder. The crimes are serious,
Weingarten said, but "there are not widows and orphans surrounding the
courthouse wanting his head."
He asked for much lighter punishment. "The goddess of justice would not weep at an 18-month sentence," Weingarten said.
noted that lawmakers in the 1980s were permitted to use campaign money
for personal expenses. "If you took a microscope and looked at all these
campaign (reports), you would find a lot of gray," he said.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said the case "strikes at the integrity of
the campaign-finance system" and warranted punishment.
wife, former Chicago alderman Sandi Jackson, has pleaded guilty to
falsifying the couple's tax returns over a six-year period. Prosecutors
sought an 18-month prison term for Sandi Jackson, but not to be served
as the same time as her husband. The couple has two children, ages 13
"My heart breaks every day with the pain it has caused my babies," Sandi Jackson said during a tearful appearance Wednesday. .
Jackson Jr. also pleaded with the judge Wednesday to spare his wife
prison time, saying if probation is not available for his wife, "give me
Graves, the prosecutor, said Sandi Jackson was not an
unwitting accomplice to her husband's crimes. "The facts show that she
stole and that she stole a lot of money," he said.
used a campaign credit card to pay for $171,000 in personal goods,
Graves said. He ticked off a string of expenses paid for with campaign
funds, including a Sub-Zero refrigerator, school fees and a trip to Walt
Jackson Jr. was first elected to Congress in a 1995
special election to replace Mel Reynolds, a Democrat who resigned after
he was convicted of having sex with a teenage campaign worker.
won re-election by a wide margin last November, despite the federal
investigation and his absence from both his congressional job and the
campaign trail. Jackson had been on extended medical leave. He resigned
from Congress several weeks after Election Day.
a court document, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen argued instead that
Jackson was driven by "greed and entitlement" to steal. To bolster their
call for prison time, prosecutors filed a letter Tuesday from Federal
Bureau of Prisons officials, saying the agency had sufficient staff and
facilities to "provide appropriate care" for Jackson's illness.
lawyer this week asked Jackson to be assigned to a minimum-security
federal prison camp on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., or
Butner-Low, a low-security facility near Raleigh, N.C. (Ponzi scheme
mastermind Bernard Madoff currently is imprisoned at a medium-security
facility that is part of the Butner complex.)
The judge can recommend a prison placement, but the Bureau of Prisons makes the final decision.
stopping to wipe his tears and blow his nose, asked the judge to be
sent to the federal prison camp in Alabama to "make it inconvenient for
everyone to get to me."
Even after the sentencing is over, the
case will not be over. Jackson still will have to forfeit $750,000.
Weingarten, said Jackson is "breaking his head" to make that happen. "My
client wants to be able to feed his children," he said.