A tearful Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 30 months in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to charges related to illegally spending $750,000 in campaign funds on personal purchases.
Federal Judge Amy B. Jackson reprimanded Jackson for using his campaign as his “personal piggy bank” as she handed down the sentence, which will be served in North Carolina. Jackson could have received as many as four years in prison.
The former Democratic congressman from Illinois choked up before the judge as he expressed remorse for his crimes, saying that he was “wrong” and had “misled” the taxpayers he represented.
“I take responsibility for my actions and am very sorry for what I’ve done,” Jackson said.
With a bevy of friends and family looking on, including his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the former lawmaker and his wife, Sandi Jackson, were sentenced in Washington, D.C., on a felony conspiracy charge and for lying on tax forms, respectively.
In an interview following the sentencing, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said his son remains in treatment for bipolar disorder, which causes his family to fear for his life. The Rev. Jesse Jackson added that he believes his son is strong enough to serve out his prison term.
“He did not even use that as an excuse for his behavior. He was remorseful… and he is still recovering. Jesse has been very sick. This time a year ago, I really thought we may have lost him. I think he is strong enough now to accept the challenges put before him by the judge. But this has been a very painful journey for our family.”
U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, who was responsible for prosecuting Jackson, said the case should be a “wake-up call” for other politicians and that Jackson squandered his career for personal gain.
“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,” said Machen.
“He squandered his great capacity for public service through outright theft. The prison sentence imposed today should serve as a wake-up call to other public officials who believe there are no consequences for betraying the public trust.”
Earlier this year, Jackson admitted to living off of his campaign funds for years, buying televisions, appliances, a Michael Jackson fedora, movie tickets and a $43,000 watch. Jackson’s wife pleaded guilty to failing to report $600,000 in taxable income.
Jackson’s lawyers argued for leniency, citing his reported health concerns, his two children and his continued treatment for bipolar disorder.
The Chicago lawmaker resigned from Congress last year following an enigmatic and prolonged absence from Capitol Hill, which landed him at the Mayo Clinic.
While a handful of his former constituents wrote the sentencing judge, asking her to bring down the full weight of the law on Jackson, some of his former colleagues and political associates have stood by him.
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, asked the judge for leniency, as did an Illinois Teamsters representative who called on the judge to “be merciful.”