Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife pleaded guilty to federal charges on Wednesday related to years of using campaign funds for personal expenses that included purchases of Michael Jackson memorabilia and a Rolex watch.
“Guilty, your honor,” Jackson responded to U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins while dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief after he looked back at family members in the courtroom, including his father, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.
Jackson engaged in a scheme to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items. He faces 46 to 57 months in prison, and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000, under a plea deal with prosecutors.
A few hours later, his wife, Sandra Jackson, pleaded guilty to filing false joint federal income tax returns that knowingly understated the income the couple received. She faces one to two years in prison and a fine of $3,000 to $40,000.
In a 17-page prosecution document, Jackson’s wife admitted 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.
Jackson had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 28, and his wife on July 1. Wilkins, who presided over both guilty pleas, is not bound by the terms of the plea agreements. Both Jacksons are free until sentencing.
Since last June, Jesse Jackson has been hospitalized twice at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for treatment of bipolar disorder and other issues, and he stayed out of the public eye for months, even during the November elections. His attorney said after the court appearance that Jackson’s health is “not an excuse” for his actions, “just a fact.”
Other expenses included more than $4,000 on a cruise and $243 at a Build-a-Bear workshop. “Records from Best Buy reveal that defendant purchased multiple flat-screen televisions, multiple Blu-Ray DVD players, numerous DVD’s for his Washington, D.C. home,” the documents state.
Prosecutors said $60,000 was spent on restaurants, nightclubs and lounges; $31,700 on personal airfare; $16,000 on sports clubs and lounges; $17,000 on tobacco shops; $5,800 on alcohol; $14,500 on dry cleaning; $8,000 on grocery stores and $6,000 at drug stores.
In one of the more exotic purchases, Jackson used campaign funds in the spring of 2011 to pay a taxidermist in Montana $7,058 for two mounted elk heads to be shipped to his office in Washington. This was the beginning of an FBI sting, according to court documents.
Jackson entered the courtroom holding hands with his wife and looking a bit dazzled as he surveyed the packed room. He kissed his wife and headed to the defense table.
Sandi Jackson’s sentencing was scheduled for July 1, a few days after her husband’s. There was dispute between government and defense lawyers about where she would fall under the federal sentencing guidelines, which the judge is not bound to follow.
On the high end, favored by the government, she would face a possible prison term of 18 to 24 months and a fine of $4,000 to $40,000. Her lawyers are pushing for 12 to 18 months and a fine of $3,000 to $30,000. The count has a maximum penalty of three years.
Guidelines are only advisory to judges. Sandi Jackson, like her husband, was given consideration for acceptance of responsibility for her crimes.
As part of her guilty plea, Sandi Jackson agreed to pay $168,500 in restitution.