Tearful US ex-congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. admits fraud
By David Ingram, ReutersWASHINGTON -- Onetime Democratic Party rising star Jesse Jackson Jr., weeping and repentant as his famous father looked on, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to misusing about US$750,000 in campaign funds on luxuries such as fur capes and a Rolex watch.
February 22, 2013, 4:36 pm TWN
Jackson, 47, who had represented Illinois in the House of Representatives from 1995 until his resignation in November, told U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins he had supplemented his income with political campaign funds for seven years.
When Wilkins asked for Jackson's plea, he responded: “Guilty, your honor. I misled the American people.”
Prosecutors said they may ask for a five-year prison sentence in the corruption case — the maximum permitted by law — while Jackson's legal team said it may argue for four or less. Sentencing is scheduled for June 28.
“His campaign funds were a personal piggy bank,” Ronald Machen, U.S. attorney for Washington, told a news conference.
Jackson, once considered among the nation's most promising black politicians, expressed regret for misusing the campaign money. At one point, he turned around to face his family and appeared to mouth the words: “I'm sorry.”
“I fully understand the consequences of my actions,” Jackson, who dropped out of public view last year and underwent treatment for bipolar disorder, told the judge.
Waiving his right to a jury trial, he said: “I have no interest in wasting the taxpayers' time, or their money.”
Jackson's father, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson Sr., and other relatives and friends sat in the front rows of a Washington courtroom. The elder Jackson declined to answer reporters' questions after the hearing.
The former congressman's wife, Sandi, tearfully pleaded guilty at a separate hearing on Wednesday to filing false tax returns that did not report the campaign money as income. She is a former member of the Chicago City Council. She walked into the hearing holding hands with her husband just hours after he also had pleaded guilty.
Jackson signed an agreement with federal prosecutors to end an investigation into his personal finances. Prosecutors said he had cooperated fully with them.
“The guilty plea today is so tragic because it represents such wasted potential. Jesse Jackson Jr. had the drive, the ability and the talent to be the voice of a new generation. But he squandered that talent and exchanged that instead to satisfy his personal whims and his extravagant lifestyle,” Machen said.
The prosecutors had accused Jackson of shipping a US$43,350 man's Rolex watch purchased with campaign funds to his Washington address. He also sent fur capes and parkas purchased with US$5,150 in campaign funds from Beverly Hills to the home of an unnamed person, court documents said.
The government had said earlier that Jackson must forfeit tens of thousands of dollars worth of celebrity memorabilia derived from the alleged crimes, including a US$4,600 fedora that once belonged to the late pop star Michael Jackson.
He must also forfeit US$5,000 worth of footballs signed by American presidents, US$10,105 in memorabilia from martial arts film star Bruce Lee and US$11,130 in Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia. Prosecutors say a final list of the items Jackson must forfeit will be released at his sentencing.
They say he used campaign money to buy US$9,588 worth of children's furniture and US$1,553 in porcelain items.
The bulk of the money, US$582,773, paid for 3,100 purchases on Jackson's personal credit cards. He charged routine items like nightclub tabs, clothing, movie tickets and dining, court papers say. One billing entry in November 2008 lists US$5,688 for “Martha's Vineyard Holistic Retreat.” Martha's Vineyard is a Massachusetts island that is popular as a summer retreat for the affluent.
“For years I lived off my campaign,” Jackson said in court.