Former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s stunning fall from grace culminated today when U.S. District Judge Amy Berman sentenced him to two-and-a-half years in prison for misuse of campaign funds.
In addition, Jackson’s wife, Sandi Jackson, a former Chicago city council member, was sentenced to one year for falsifying tax returns that failed to report campaign money as income. Judge Berman ordered Jackson Jr. to report to prison on or after November 1, and for Sandi Jackson to report to prison 30 days after he is released to reduce the impact on the couple’s two children.
Jackson, the son of civil rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., apologized in court before the judge sentenced him. The sentencing was the consequence of Jackson, 48, pleading guilty in February to misusing roughly $750,000 in campaign funds on luxuries such as fur capes, celebrity memorabilia, mounted elk heads and a Rolex watch.
“I misled the American people. I also want to apologize to my dad and my mother,” he said as he wiped away tears. “I take responsibility for my actions and I’m very sorry for what I have done.”
In her statement to the court, Sandi Jackson said, “I stand before you today asking for mercy. My heart breaks every day with the pain it has caused my babies.”
The former congressman, who first entered Congress in 1995, asked the judge recommend to the Bureau of Prisons that he serve his time at a federal prison in Montgomery, Alabama so that he could be closer to his family members, who live in Washington D.C.
The odyssey of Jackson Jr. preoccupied the Chicago and national media last year, as Jackson disappeared from public view in the summer of 2012 amid intense speculation about his condition. While he initially said he was being treated for exhaustion, his doctor said in July 2012 that he was being treated for a “mood disorder.” Jackson eventually went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for six weeks to be treated for bipolar disorder.
In addition to the prison time, Jackson Jr. also was sentenced to three years supervised release and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. Sandi Jackson was sentenced to 12 months supervised release and 200 hours of community service.
It could have been worse for Jackson: prosecutors recommended a sentence of four years for the ex-congressman and 18 months for Sandi Jackson. Prosecutors also asked in June that two of the Jacksons’ houses, in Washington and Chicago, be subject to forfeiture, along with a bank account holding $80,000, as part of a $750,000 judgment.
But prosecutors amended the filing this month and asked that the forfeiture motion be delayed until October 25 since Jackson has said he is trying to pay off the judgment.
After the sentencing, the senior Jackson told reporters it has been an “extraordinarily difficult” time for the family.
“Jesse’s been very sick,” Reverend Jackson said. “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.”