Former US congressman Jesse Jackson Jr, the son of the well-known civil rights leader, was sentenced on Wednesday to 30 months in prison after admitting to misusing US$750,000 in campaign funds.
The sentence capped a stunning fall from grace for the Illinois Democrat who was once a rising national star, but resigned under a cloud in November after 17 years in the House of Representatives.
Jackson, 48, apologized in court under the watchful gaze of his parents and other loved ones.
“I take responsibility for my actions,” he told the judge.
“I let a lot of people down... I misled the people, the Congress, the media,” he said.
US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson responded by saying it was a “very sad day” to see an “extremely intelligent and charismatic leader” violate the trust of his constituents.
Prosecutors said Jackson used some of the siphoned funds to buy personal items ranging from fur capes and collectibles to movie tickets and groceries and even a US$43,350 gold-plated Rolex watch.
“Jesse Jackson Jr’s journey from the halls of Congress to federal prison is a tragedy of his own making,” US Attorney Ronald Machen said.
“Jackson’s political potential was unlimited, but he instead chose to treat his campaign account as a personal slush fund, stealing from the people who believed in him so he could live extravagantly,” Machen said.
Jackson’s wife, former Chicago alderwoman Sandy Jackson, pleaded guilty to submitting false tax returns and was sentenced to a year in prison.
The judge permitted the couple to stagger their prison time to ensure at least one parent is always on hand to care for their young children.
Jackson took a leave of absence from Congress in June last year to receive treatment for bipolar disorder and related depression, and for two months his whereabouts and condition were a mystery.
“Jesse has been very sick,” his father told reporters. “This time a year ago I thought that we lost him. I think that he is strong enough now to accept the challenges put before him by the judge.”
Earlier, Jackson had been implicated in ousted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich’s scheme to auction off US President Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat in 2008.
Blagojevich was impeached and then jailed for bribery, but Jackson was never charged with any wrongdoing related to the scandal.
However, prosecutors continued to dog his steps and discovered the diverted funds.
Jackson was first elected to Congress in 1995 after having worked with his father’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition.
Easily re-elected in the largely Democratic Chicago district in November, Jackson resigned 16 days later, citing his health problems while also acknowledging the ethics investigations.