- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., son of the prominent civil-rights activist, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 months in federal prison for spending $750,000 in campaign funds on luxury personal items such as mink capes and a gold-plated Rolex watch.

Jackson — whose wife, Sandra, was sentenced to one year in prison for tax fraud — wept in court and apologized to his father and mother during the hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington.

The former congressman said he “didn’t separate my personal life from my political activities, and that was wrong.”

“I misled the American people,” Jackson said. “I misled the House of Representatives. I misled the media by filing my reports. I was wrong. And I don’t fault anyone. And I hope even those who still support me don’t hold any judgment against you.”

The former lawmaker admitted defrauding his campaign fund and then filing misleading reports to conceal seven years of illegal activities.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. was among those who wrote to the judge asking that his son avoid jail time. But the judge said to grant such a lenient sentence would give the appearance of two justice systems, “one for the well-connected and one for everybody else.”

“I cannot do it, and I will not do it,” she said.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. said Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife have only themselves to blame.

Jackson’s political potential was unlimited, but he instead chose to treat his campaign account as a personal slush fund, stealing from the people who believed in him so he could live extravagantly,” Mr. Machen said. “He squandered his great capacity for public service through outright theft.”

The judge, no relation to the defendant, told the 48-year-old Jackson that he has “demons to overcome” and he should have held himself to a higher standard as a public official.

“You stand here not just because you violated the law, but because you violated the trust of the people of Chicago,” she said.

Jackson resigned from the House in November, citing mental-health issues. He pleaded guilty in February to charges of stealing the campaign money to lavish himself with luxury items, including a $1,500 cashmere cap, a $43,000 watch, a washer and dryer, mounted elk heads, a vacation at a holistic retreat, movie tickets and health club dues.

After Jackson completes his prison term, he will face 36 months of probation, 500 hours of community service and continued mental-health care.

The sentencing capped a spectacular downfall for the man once viewed as the likely heir to his famous father’s role as a civil-rights activist. Jesse Jackson Sr. told reporters after the court session that his son’s mental-health problems played a role in the crime.

“This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for my family,” said Jesse Jackson Sr. “I’ve had to raise many questions to myself about did I confuse success with sickness. Bipolar was never part of my lexicon.”

Sandra Jackson, 49, a former Chicago city alderman, pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns. She will also have to pay $22,000 in restitution, and will face a year of supervised probation upon her release.

Jesse Jackson Jr. chose to serve his prison time before his wife does, and his attorneys asked that Jackson be sent either to the Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Ala., or the Federal Correctional Institution in Butner, N.C. Both made the top 10 in a 2009 Forbes list of the country’s cushiest federal prisons. Among the inmates at Butner is Bernie Madoff, the admitted operator of a Ponzi scheme that is considered to be the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.

If Jackson earns time off for good behavior, he would serve about 25 ½ months in prison. He told the judge that he hopes his wife can earn enough money during his imprisonment to keep their family together.

“When I get back, I’ll take on that burden,” Jackson said. “By then, I hope my children will be old enough that the pain I caused will be easier to bear.”

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