CHICAGO (AP) – Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned last year after nearly 17 years in office, was charged Friday with scheming to spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. His wife was charged with filing false income tax forms.
Federal prosecutors filed a charge of conspiracy against the former congressman and charged his wife, Sandra, with one count of filing false joint federal income tax returns for the years 2006 through 2011. Both agreed to plead guilty in plea deals with federal prosecutors.
The charges represent a dramatic fall from political prominence for the Chicago couple. The son of a famed civil rights leader, Jackson entered Congress in 1995 and resigned last November. Sandi, as she’s known, was a Chicago alderman, but resigned last month.
In a statement released as the charges were announced, the ex-congressman said, “I offer no excuses for my conduct, and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made.”
Jackson has tried to stay out of public view since he took a medical leave in June for treatment of bipolar disorder and other issues.
Jackson’s spending included $43,350 on a gold-plated, men’s Rolex watch and $9,587.64 on children’s furniture, according to court papers filed in the case.
“Defendant Jesse L. Jackson Jr., willingly and knowingly, used approximately $750,000 from the campaign’s accounts for personal expenses” that benefited him and his co-conspirator, who was not named in the one-count criminal information filed in the case. The filing of a criminal information, rather than an indictment, ordinarily signifies that a defendant is preparing to plead guilty.
Tom Kirsch, an attorney for Jackson’s wife says she has signed a plea agreement with federal prosecutors and would plead guilty to one tax count.
The charge against Sandi Jackson carries a maximum three-year prison sentence. But Kirsch says the agreement “does not contemplate a sentence of that length.” He said the episode has been stressful on his client but that she “expected to be held responsible ... and wants to put (it) behind her and her family.”
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis said it appears his former Democratic colleague “got carried away” trying to acquire political power and that the charges “couldn’t be more unfortunate.” He said he believes the Jacksons got caught up in bad decisions and the situation got out of hand.
The past months have been rough for Jesse Jackson Jr. He was hospitalized twice at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and stayed out of the public eye for months even during the election. The timing of his medical leave invited scrutiny as it came just after a former fundraiser was indicted on unrelated medical fraud charges.
Jackson’s resignation ended a once-promising political career that was tarnished by unproven allegations that he was involved in discussions to raise campaign funds for imprisoned former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in exchange for an appointment to President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat.
Jackson, 47, has denied the allegations related to Blagojevich, but he remained the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation into the matter. The committee, which no longer has any power over Jackson, may choose to issue a report on the matter. Blagojevich, who was convicted on numerous corruption charges, is serving a 14-year prison term.
Sandi Jackson resigned from her Chicago City Council seat in January, saying she could not adequately represent her district while dealing with “very painful health matters” – presumably a reference to her husband’s bipolar disorder.