Former Illinois congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty on Wednesday to federal conspiracy charges of using campaign funds to purchase personal and luxury items, bringing what’s likely a grim end to a fast-rising political career.
Jackson was charged Friday with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and making false statements. He is accused by prosecutors of spending $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use. Prosecutors also say that Jackson failed to report $28,000 in gifts he received.
In U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Jackson told Judge Robert Wilkins that he was guilty of the charges against him. “I used money I shouldn’t have… for personal purposes, and I acknowledge that.”
Jackson faces sentencing on June 28. Based on federal guidelines he could receive up to five years in prison, but prosecutors and defense attorneys could argue for a lighter or heavier term. Both sides have agreed that probation is off the table.
The guilty plea comes after an eight-month downward spiral in which Jackson took a medical leave of absence from Congress for what turned out to be bipolar disorder. While he was unable to campaign in his district, which encompasses parts of Chicago’s South Side and adjacent suburbs, he won reelection handily while being treated at the Mayo Clinic. He resigned from office two weeks after the election, however, and said that he was cooperating with federal investigators.
Later Wednesday afternoon, his wife, Sandra, a former Chicago alderman who resigned in January was also charged Friday with a single count of tax fraud relating to the accusations of Jackson using the campaing funds. She entered her plea separately to the same federal district court in Washington.
The son of storied civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, the Illinois politician had served in the House of Representatives for 18 years and had been considered for potential leadership roles in Congress, or possibly as a contender for mayor of Chicago. But political troubles began to surface in 2008, when Jackson became linked to then-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in a scandal in which the Governor attempted to sell the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Jackson wasn’t charged in the case, which sent the governor to federal prison, but he became the subject of an ethics probe.
He later made public statements acknowledging his “mistakes” and reiterating that he was cooperating fully with investigators.
Among the items Jackson allegedly purchased with the campaign cash are a gold-plated Rolex watch for $43,000; $5,100 in fur capes; and more than $43,000 in Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson and Martin Luther King memorabilia. Federal prosecutors are seeking a $750,000 judgement against Jackson and forfeiture of the items or any cash generated from it, plus a $250,000 fine.