Jesse Jackson Jr. pleads guilty in campaign case

By Pete Yost

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20 2013 3:33 p.m. MST

"Tell everybody back home I'm sorry I let them down, OK?" Jackson told Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet, according to her Tweet from the scene.

Sandra Jackson, 49, wearing a black pantsuit, sobbed visibly during her court hearing, as her husband watched from the row behind the defense table. Sandi, as she's known, was a Chicago alderman before she resigned last month during the federal investigation.

Jesse Jackson Jr., 47, used campaign money to buy items including a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch and $9,587.64 worth of children's furniture, according to court papers filed in the case. His wife spent $5,150 on fur capes and parkas, the court documents said. Under the plea deal, Jackson must forfeit $750,000, plus tens of thousands of dollars' worth of memorabilia items and furs.

More details emerged in a 22-page statement compiled by prosecutors, filed Wednesday, in which Jackson admitted that he and his wife used campaign credit cards to buy 3,100 personal items worth $582,772.58 from 2005 through April of last year. Personal expenditures at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges cost $60,857.04. Personal expenditures at sports clubs and lounges cost $16,058.91, including maintaining a family membership at a gym. Personal spending for alcohol cost $5,814.43. Personal spending for dry cleaning cost $14,513.42.

Among the individual purchases made with campaign credit cards:

—A $466 dinner for two of "a personal nature" at Mandarin Oriental's CityZen restaurant.

—A washer, a dryer, a range and a refrigerator for the Jacksons' Chicago home.

—Multiple flat-screen televisions, multiple Blu-Ray DVD players and numerous DVDs for their Washington, D.C., home.

—A five-day health retreat for one of Mrs. Jackson's relatives.

—Stuffed animals and accessories for them.

—Goods at Costco, from video games to toilet paper.

According to the prosecution's court papers, Jackson even arranged for the use of campaign money to buy two mounted elk heads for his congressional office. Last summer, as the FBI closed in, a Jackson staffer identified only as "Person A" tried to arrange for the sale of the elk heads, but the FBI was one step ahead. The bureau had an undercover FBI employee contact the staffer, claiming to be an interior designer who had received the person's name from a taxidermist and inquiring whether there were elk heads for sale. They agreed on a price of $5,300.

Jackson's wife, knowing that the elk heads had been purchased with campaign funds, directed the staffer to move the elk heads from Washington to Chicago and to instruct the sale contact to wire the proceeds to her husband's personal account.

Over the years, the unidentified "Person A" provided significant help to the Jacksons in carrying out the scheme. Jackson used the aide for many different bill-paying activities, including paying construction contractors for work on Jackson's Washington home.

From 2008 through last March, Jackson's re-election campaign issued $76,150.39 in checks to the staff member, who was entitled to only $11,400 for work done for the campaign. The aide spent the remainder of the funds from the campaign for the Jacksons.

One of Jesse Jackson Jr.'s lawyers, Reid H. Weingarten, told reporters after the hearing that there's reason for optimism.

"A man that talented, a man that devoted to public service, a man who's done so much for so many, has another day. There will be another chapter in Jesse Jackson's life," he said.

Weingarten said that his client has "serious health issues. And those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That's not an excuse, that's just a fact. And Jesse's turned the corner there as well. There's reason for optimism here too. Jesse's gotten great treatment, he's has great doctors, and I think he's gotten his arms around his problem."

As the hearing for Jackson got under way Wednesday, newly filed court papers disclosed that the judge had offered to disqualify himself from handling the cases against Jackson and his wife.

As a Harvard Law School student, Wilkins said he had supported the presidential campaign of Jackson's father and that as an attorney in 1999, Wilkins had been a guest on a show hosted by Jackson's father.

Prosecutors and lawyers for the couple said they were willing to proceed with the cases with Wilkins presiding. Judicial ethics require that a judge disqualify himself if his impartiality might reasonably be questioned.

Follow Fred Frommer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ffrommer

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