Jesse Jackson Jr. Accused of $750,000 Campaign Fund FraudTom Schoenberg and Andrew Zajac
Former Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. was charged by U.S. prosecutors with misusing $750,000 in campaign funds for purchases including a Michael Jackson hat and an Eddie Van Halen guitar.
Jackson, a 47-year-old Democrat and the son of the civil-rights leader, was charged today in federal court in Washington with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and making false statements. Jackson intends to plead guilty, one of his lawyers, Brian Heberlig of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, said in an e-mail.
“Over the course of my life I have come to realize that none of us are immune from our share of shortcomings and human frailties,” Jackson said in an e-mailed statement. “Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made.”
Today’s charge, which has a maximum term of five years in prison, caps months of legal maneuvering that include Jackson’s resignation from office in November and his treatment for depression at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
Jackson’s wife, Sandra Stevens Jackson, was charged in a separate case with filing false tax returns. She faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
Jackson spent campaign funds on memorabilia linked to Martin Luther King Jr., black nationalist leader Malcolm X, martial arts movie star Bruce Lee, pop icon Michael Jackson, and rock guitarists Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix, prosecutors said. He also spent the money on mink, fox and cashmere capes and parkas and a $43,000 Rolex watch.
No court dates have been set.
William Miller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen in Washington, declined to comment on the charges.
Jackson’s wife will plead guilty to one count of tax fraud, her lawyers, Dan Webb and Tom Kirsch of Winston & Strawn LLP, said in a statement.
“Ms. Jackson has accepted responsibility for her conduct, is deeply sorry for her actions, and looks forward to putting this matter behind her and her family,” according to the statement.
Jackson, who ended a career of almost 17 years in the U.S. Congress by resigning in November, won a special election for a vacant House seat in 1995 and began serving on Dec. 12 of that year. He subsequently never garnered less than 81 percent of the general-election vote in his district on Chicago’s South Side until last year when he won a 10th House term with 63 percent.
His wife resigned her Chicago alderman seat last month.
Jackson was a national co-chairman of President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and an advocate of traditional Democratic Party constituencies. He pushed to maintain government support for the poor, including welfare, assistance for heating bills and the Head Start early education program.
Jackson was caught up in the scandal surrounding former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s attempts to sell an appointment to Obama’s former Senate seat. Identified in court papers as “Senate Candidate 5” who was willing to raise money for the governor’s re-election, Jackson denied the allegations and said he wasn’t a target in the federal probe.
Blagojevich was convicted in June 2011 and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Educated at the elite Washington prep school St. Albans, Jackson graduated from North Carolina A&T State University in 1987. He earned a master’s degree in theology from Chicago Theological Seminary and a law degree from University of Illinois College of Law.
Before entering politics, he worked as the national field director of the Rainbow Coalition, the group founded by his father, the Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr.
The case is U.S. v. Jackson, 13-cr-58, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).