Former Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 30 months in prison during an emotional courtroom scene Wednesday where the Illinois Democrat asked to serve his wife’s jail time — a request that was denied.
With his father, civil rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson, sitting in the courtroom, the former congressman took full responsibility for his misuse of campaign funds and asked the judge to show mercy by sparing his wife, Sandi Jackson, from prison time. She was also implicated in the scandal.
“If probation is not available to her, give me her time,” Jackson said, according to courtroom tweets from Chicago Sun-Times political reporter Natasha Korecki.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation) did not.
“There may be blurred lines for congressmen to follow when their lives are political,” the judge said. “This case did not come near those areas.
“This was a knowing, organized joint misconduct that was repeated and then covered up over a series of years,” said the judge, who likened Jackson’s campaign fund to a “personal piggybank.”
Sandi Jackson was sentenced to a year in prison for filing false tax returns in connection with the misuse of her husband’s campaign funds, a crime she pleaded guilty to in February.
At that time, the former lawmaker pleaded guilty to stealing more than $750,000 from his campaign and illegally spending the money on a wide array of purchases, including a $43,000 Rolex watch, more than $28,000 worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia, more than $10,000 in Bruce Lee memorabilia and more than $5,000 in fur coats and capes.
On Wednesday, the couple pleaded with the court not to send Sandi Jackson to prison, arguing that the damage of sending both parents to jail would be irreparable for their 13-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.
But the prosecutor maintained that Sandi Jackson, as her husband’s campaign manager, was not an innocent party; the prosecutor said Sandi Jackson used a campaign credit card to pay for salons, spa treatments, a Disney vacation, even a sub-zero fridge for the Jackson’s Chicago home — more than $171,000 in personal expenses.
But Sandi Jackson asked the judge for compassion.
“My heart breaks every day with the pain that it’s caused my babies,” she said to the judge. “I ask the court for mercy.”
The judge maintained that it was “not the court that put your children in this position.”
The judge’s mercy seemed to be her ruling that the Jacksons will serve staggered sentences. That will allow their children to have at least one parent at home while the couple serves three and half years’ worth of prison time.
Sandi Jackson was also ordered to pay $22,000 in restitution. The judge did not order Jesse Jackson Jr. to repay any of his stolen campaign funds, arguing that the victim in the crime was the campaign and “the campaign is defunct.”
It’s not likely the Jacksons would have the money to repay the campaign anyway.
On Wednesday, one of the Jacksons’ lawyers, Dan Webb, disclosed that the former lawmaker’s income was “based” on his congressional disability pay.
“That will be cut significantly if he goes to prison,” Webb said.
Jackson resigned from Congress in November under a cloud of mystery as he avoided the public at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He said he was being treated for bipolar disorder, a condition that he asked the court to take into account in his sentencing.
The Jacksons will decide who goes to prison first.