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Jesse Jackson Jr. charged with misusing $750,000 in campaign funds

February 15, 2013|By Katherine Skiba
  • Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., right, and his wife, Sandi, are shown in a 2006 photo.
Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., right, and his wife, Sandi, are shown… (Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated…)

Federal prosecutors in Washington on Friday charged both Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi, alleging the former congressman misused $750,000 in campaign funds while she understated their income on  tax returns for six years.

Attorneys for Sandi Jackson issued a statement saying she has signed a plea deal with prosecutors and would plead guilty to tax fraud. Jesse Jackson Jr. was charged in what is known as a criminal information, which typically signals that he, too, will plead guilty.

Jesse Jackson Jr., 47, a Democrat from Chicago, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements. He faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and other penalties.

Sandi Jackson was charged with one count of filing false tax returns. She faces up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $100,000 and other penalties.

Jesse Jackson Jr. is accused of diverting $750,000 in campaign funds for personal use.

Federal authorities allege that Jackson  used campaign funds to purchase a $43,350 men’s gold-plated Rolex watch, $5,150 worth of fur capes and parkas, and $9,588 in children’s furniture. The purchases were made between 2007 and 2009, according to the criminal information, which authorities noted is not evidence of guilt.

Other expenditures listed by prosecutors include $10,105 on Bruce Lee memorabilia, $11,130 on Martin Luther King Jr. memorabilia and $22,700 on Michael Jackson items, including $4,600 for a "Michael Jackson fedora."

The government also alleged that the former lawmaker made false statements to the House of Representatives because he did not report approximately $28,500 in loans and gifts he received.

Sandi Jackson is accused of filing incorrect joint tax returns with her husband for calendar years 2006 through 2011, reporting income “substantially less than the amount of income she and her husband received in each of the calendar years,” with a substantial additional tax due.

Jesse Jackson Jr. stepped down from the House of Representatives on Nov. 21, citing both his poor health and an ongoing federal probe of his activities. In a statement then, he said he was doing his best to cooperate with federal investigators and to accept responsibility for his “mistakes.”

In a statement today, he said:

“Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made. To that end I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right.”

Sandi Jackson's attorneys released a statement saying she "has accepted responsibility for her conduct, is deeply sorry for her actions, and looks forward to putting this matter behind her and her family. She is thankful for the support of her family and friends during this very difficult time."

Jackson's father, the Rev.  Jesse Jackson Sr., said he wanted to attend President Obama's speech Friday at Hyde Park Academy in Chicago but traveled to Washington, D.C., instead, to be with family members while they waited for the federal charges to come down.
 
"This has been a difficult and painful ordeal for our family," the civil rights leader said.
 
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said he would "leave it up to the courts system" to determine his son's fate.

"We express our love for him as a family," he said.

Jesse Jackson Jr.’s political fortunes sank beginning late in 2008, when he sought unsuccessfully to have Gov. Rod Blagojevich appoint him to the Senate seat that came open with the election of then-Sen. Barack Obama to the White House.

Jackson or an emissary reportedly offered to raise up to $6 million in campaign cash for Blagojevich, who now is in federal prison for crimes including trying to sell the Senate seat. Jackson was never charged in the case, which became the subject of an ethics inquiry in the House.

Last June, Jackson began a mysterious leave of absence for what originally was called exhaustion but later emerged as bipolar disorder. He spent months in treatment and won reelection Nov. 6 despite never returning to service in the House or staging a single campaign appearance.

A campaign to replace him is being conducted in the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of the South Side and south suburbs.

Jackson was elected to Congress in 1995. Sandi Jackson was a Chicago alderman until she resigned her post last month. They have two children.

kskiba@tribune.com

Chicago Tribune reporters Kim Geiger, Rick Pearson and Patrick Svitek contributed to this report.

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