Former US representative Jesse Jackson Jr, the son of prominent US civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson, has entered a guilty plea in US federal court to criminal charges that he engaged in a scheme to spend US$750,000 in campaign funds on personal items.
He faces 46 to 57 months in prison and a fine of US$10,000 to US$100,000 under a plea deal with prosecutors.
A few hours later on Wednesday, Jackson Jr’s wife, Sandra Jackson, pleaded guilty to filing false joint federal income tax returns that knowingly understated the income the couple received. She faces one to two years in prison and a fine of US$3,000 to US$40,000.
Until the couple’s troubles began, Jackson Jr seemed to have a bright political future with a possible shot at higher office.
Sandra Jackson was a member of the Chicago city council until her resignation last month.
In a 17-page prosecution document, she admitted that from the middle of 2006 through the middle of October of last year, she failed to report US$600,000 in income that she and her husband earned from 2005 to 2011.
Before entering the plea to a conspiracy charge, Jackson Jr told US District Judge Robert Wilkins: “I’ve never been more clear in my life” in his decision to plead guilty.
Later, when Wilkins asked if Jackson Jr committed the acts outlined in court papers, the former congressman replied: “I did these things.”
He added later: “Sir, for years I lived in my campaign,” and used money from the campaign for personal use.
He told the judge he was waiving his right to trial.
“In perfect candor, your honor, I have no interest in wasting the taxpayers’ time or money,” he said.
US Attorney Ronald Machen called the guilty plea “nothing short of tragic.”
“Jesse Jackson Jr entered public life with unlimited potential, but squandered his bright future by engaging in a self--destructive course of conduct that was staggering in both degree and scope,” Machen said.
“For seven years, Mr Jackson betrayed the very people he inspired by stealing their campaign donations to finance his extravagant lifestyle,” he said.
Jackson Jr had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned in November last year. He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 28, and his wife on July 1.
Wilkins, who presided over both guilty pleas, is not bound by the terms of the plea agreements.
The couple are free until sentencing.
Jackson Jr used campaign money to buy items including a US$43,350 gold-plated men’s Rolex watch and US$9,587.64 worth of children’s furniture, according to court papers filed in the case. His wife spent US$5,150 on fur capes and parkas, the court documents said.
Under the plea deal, Jackson Jr must forfeit US$750,000, plus tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of memorabilia items and furs.