Courtesy: Chicago Sun -Times
WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 2½ years in prison Wednesday after pleading guilty to stealing more than $750,000 from his campaign fund and illegally using the money for personal purchases. “I was wrong and I don’t fault anyone,” he said. His wife received a term of one year and will have to serve out her entire sentence.
Jesse Jackson Jr. — who said after the hearing that he “manned up” and said “I still believe in redemption” — will have to report to prison on or before Nov. 1. He could get up to four months off his sentence for good behavior, meaning he would serve about 25½ months.
“There may be blurred lines for congressmen to follow when their lives are political. This case did not come near those areas,” said U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation), saying that she must use Jackson Jr. as an example to maintain confidence in the system. She said the Jacksons’ sentences should be staggered and allowed the Jacksons to decide that he would serve his sentence first, although Judge Jackson didn’t agree with the couple’s decision.
“It’s not the way I would have it,” she said. “It’s not the way I think is right.”
Sandi Jackson’s term will begin 30 days after her husband is released.
After the hearing, Sandi Jackson’s attorney, Dan Webb, said she was grateful for the opportunity to “be able to use her mothering skills” to raise her children and help them heal. The staggered sentence “gives Sandi the opportunity over the next 2½ years to do exactly what she wants to do…give her a chance to rebuild her life,” he said.
The judge appeared to reject Jackson Jr.’s psychiatric defense, saying his string of accomplishments “points to only one conclusion: and that is that you knew better.”
She said Jackson could not claim mental illness as a mitigating factor because his series of purchases “were not all sudden and extraordinary purchases.”
His wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), was sentenced to 12 months, with the judge citing spending of campaign funds that included $5,000 in furs and parkas “in one day.” She was also ordered to pay $22,000 in restitution.
The judge made clear in her sentencing that Sandi Jackson was not sentenced to a year and a day, which could have qualified her for good time and would have meant she would have effectively served 10 months in prison.
Instead, under the rules of federal sentencing, she will serve a longer sentence with the judge sentencing her to one year. Sandi Jackson looked pale and astonished as the judge delivered the sentence.
The judge also addressed how Sandi Jackson’s lawyers laid out her devotion to her children.
“The message has not been subtle,” Judge Jackson said. “The pleadings have laid this on very, very thick.”
“It is not the court that put your children in this position. It is not the government that put your children in this position. These children have two parents.”
The former congressman, addressing the court, stopped several times before the judge, to blow his nose in a tissue. At one point, he tried talking again but whispered “I can’t see” because his crying was fogging up his glasses.
“I didn’t separate my personal life from my political life, and I couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “I take responsibility for my actions.”
When it came time for her chance to speak before the judge, Sandi Jackson asked for leniency.
“I stand before you today asking for mercy,” she said. “I ask to continue to provide for my children.”
Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to stealing more than $750,000 from his campaign fund and illegally using the money for personal purchases — from Michael Jackson memorabilia, fur coats and a Rolex watch. His wife pleaded guilty to signing off on tax returns, knowing that the couple had underreported their income.
Early in the hearing, Judge Jackson declined to order restitution in the Jackson case in addition to the $750,000 forfeiture that Jesse Jackson Jr. has already agreed to. She said the “victim is the campaign. The campaign is defunct.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Graves had argued that Jackson should have to pay $750,000 in forfeiture plus pay restitution back to the campaign fund. He asked that the money go back to the campaign fund because of “the harm done to the system” and that a monitor be appointed to oversee how the money is dispensed.
Jackson’s attorney Reid Weingarten vigorously fought that, citing “an intensely practical issue here: My client wants to be able to feed his children,” Weingarten said. “He is breaking his head to make that happen before he reports,” to prison.
“This is not [Bernie] Madoff. This is not a Ponzi scheme. The courthouse is not ringed with victims demanding his head,” Weingarten said, arguing that Jackson’s bipolar disorder should be taken into account.
“The goddess of justice would not weep at an 18-month sentence,” he said, also requesting probation for Sandi Jackson.
Weingarten said he first met Jesse Jackson Jr. when the former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was under investigation.
“In truth, [Jackson] was never a target. In truth, he was a critical witness at trial,” Weingarten told the judge, saying Jackson was “very important” to Blagojevich’s conviction.
Graves pointed out that the Jacksons’ combined income in 2011 was nearly $350,000, playing them among the top 10 percent of households and giving them no financial need to steal.
Graves also questioned Jackson Jr.’s medical condition, saying: “It’s quite clear there’s no ‘there’ there,” arguing that Jackson Jr. shouldn’t get a lighter sentence because of any medical issues.
The judge sided with Graves, saying Jackson can’t claim illnesses led him to steal $750,000 because “they were not all sudden and extraordinary purchases.”
After a short recess during which Sandi Jackson told a reporter “I’m hanging in,” Webb vigorously argued that the former alderman deserved probation.
“If a jail sentence is imposed on Sandi Jackson, there’s going to be enormous harm to two young children who are going to lose their mother,” Webb said.
Sandi Jackson sat crying as Webb cited her “devotion to family and desire to participate” in the community and help the disadvantaged.
The Jacksons’ children, 13 and 9 would suffer tremendously if Sandi Jackson went to prison, Webb said.
“They’ve gone through an extraordinary, traumatic experience with both parents being charged with crimes,” Webb said. “They need Sandi Jackson’s love, her support, her nurturing. They need it now, in their life. There’s no question there’s a human process that needs to take place. Sandi Jackson is the only one who can do this. “To take the mother away … would be an unbearable burden on these two children.”
Graves, however, portrayed Sandi Jackson as coming clean over after being presented with the evidence against her, and said the Jacksons’ was one of the worse cases of personal use of campaign funds that has “ever been documented.”
Among the items purchased with the funds were “thousands of dollars at salons and spa treatments,” a Disney vacation and a subzero freezer for their Chicago home.
Before the hearing, the Jackson family formed a prayer circle, holding hands outside courtroom, praying before entering the courtroom.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson signaled his son had come a long way, saying one year ago: “almost lost him.”
“Focus on the windshield, not the rear view mirror,” the Rev. Jackson said Wednesday.
A prison term for the once-powerful Jesse Jackson Jr. marks a spectacular fall from grace for the son of the famed civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jackson Jr. easily sailed to re-election term after term in his 2nd Congressional District. All told, he spent 17 years serving the district until he resigned in disgrace last November.
On Wednesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, upon seeing his son in the Washington, D.C., federal courthouse cafeteria, stood up and warmly embraced him. Jackson’s brothers, Yusef and Jonathan, as well as his sister, Santita, also greeted their brother as the family huddled in the cafeteria just before facing a federal judge. It was clear the day was expected to bring anguish for the incredibly public family: The Jacksons had hired a public relations consultant who was on hand, as was Judy Smith, the crisis counselor who inspired the ABC hit series “Scandal.