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Jesse Jackson Jr., former Democratic representative, and his wife Sandi Jackson pleaded guilty to one count of wire and mail fraud by using an estimated about $750,000 in federal campaign funds for their personal use.
According to court filings Jackson Jr. and his wife used his campaign money to buy items like fur capes, celebrity memorabilia, movie tickets, personal travel, clothing, food, a $43,000 Rolex, Blu-ray players, health clubs, and more luxury goods. Jackson had personally opened a bank account under the name “Jesse Jackson Jr. for Congress” in January 2006.
Mr. Jackson’s exotic purchases were for two mounted elk heads from a taxidermist in Montana for $7, 058, which was later shipped to his office in Washington. A year later, the taxidermist was asked to buy the elk heads back or provide the names of people who bought them. This was the start of an undercover FBI investigation, according to court document. FBI agents offered to buy $5,300 for the heads and the money was wired to Jackson’s personal bank account, according to statements in the documents.
Jackson Jr. was faced in court and entered a negotiated plea of guilt for a count of conspiracy to commit false statements, wire fraud, and mail fraud. His wife, Sandi Jackson also pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return. The issue was tied to the couple’s allegation of using the former congressman’s campaign funds and forging tax disclosures to cover up the misconduct.
“For years I’ve lived off my campaign,” Jackson Jr. emotionally said. “I used money that should have been for campaign purposes for personal purposes.” In court, Jackson was quested by judge Robert L. Wilkins of Federal District Court. The hearing was momentarily stopped during the questioning of Mr. Jackson, so he could be given a tissue.
Prosecutors and Jackson Jr. are negotiating to receive a sentence of 46 to 57 months in prison and a fine that ranges from $10,000 to $100,000 as a plea agreement. Prosecutors could also argue for a harsher punishment up to a maximum sentence of five years in prison. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 28, where all parties agreed that Jackson would not be able eligible for probation.
Jackson’s attorney, Reid Weingaten, told the judge there are plans to make this summer’s sentencing about his client’s mental health conditions that might be mitigating factors.
“That’s not an excuse. That’s just a fact,” Weingarten said outside the Washington, D.C., courtroom, adding that he anticipates Jackson will rebound” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Rev. Jackson, Jackson Jr.’s father, says his son struggles with mental illness and remains under “tight medical supervision”, according to NBC.
“During this difficult and painful ordeal, our family has felt the impact of your prayers and calls,” Rev. Jackson said according to NBC. “So many ministers have reached out to us, and we thank you. The hurt in this valley is indescribable.”
Tom Kirsch, Sandi Jackson’s lawyer, is negotiating a more lenient punishment. Her case was also heard by the same judge who presided her husband’s hearing.
Jackson Jr.’s guilty plea will be the end of his political career. He used to be a leading figure in the Democratic Party serving as a national co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and as surrogate for other high-profile politicians.