AFRICANGLOBE – Former Illinois lawmaker Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced Wednesday to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to spending $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items.
He will also face 36 months of probation, 500 hours of community service and continued mental health care.
His wife, Sandra Jackson, was sentenced to one year after pleading guilty to tax fraud. The couple’s prison sentences will be staggered, and the judge left it up to the Jacksons’ discretion to determine who will be first to serve his or her sentence. She will also have to pay $22,000 in restitution and will face a year of supervised probation upon her release.
Jesse Jackson Jr. elected to serve his sentence first.
“I still believe in the power of forgiveness; I believe in the power of redemption,” Jackson said when approached by a reporter after the hearing. “Today I manned up and tried to accept responsibility for the errors of my ways. And I still believe in resurrection.”
Jackson wept at the hearing Wednesday morning, saying he “didn’t separate my personal life from my political activities, and that was wrong.”
The 48-year-old son of and one-time heir apparent to civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson apologized to his mother and father during the hearing in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
“I misled the American people,” Jackson said in a statement to the court. “I misled the House of Representatives. I misled the media by filing my reports. I was wrong. And I don’t fault anyone. And I hope even those who still support me don’t hold any judgment against you.”
Jackson resigned from his seat in the House of Representatives in 2012, citing mental health issues. He pleaded guilty in February to charges of pilfering three-quarters of a million dollars in campaign funds to spend on luxury items, including a $1,500 cashmere cap, according to court documents.
“This has been an extraordinarily difficult time for my family,” Jesse Jackson Sr. told reporters after the sentencing hearing. “I’ve had to raise many questions to myself about did I confuse success with sickness.”
“Bipolar was never part of my lexicon,” the civil rights activist said.
Sandra Jackson, 49, pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns, and prosecutors had sought an 18-month prison sentence. Jackson had asked that his wife be given probation and he be made to serve time in her stead.
Before handing down the sentence, the judge on Wednesday admonished Jackson, saying he had betrayed the confidence of people who had given money to his campaigns. The judge called Jackson a “complex person” with “demons to overcome,” according to the station.
“You stand here not just because you violated the law, but because you violated the trust of the people of Chicago,” Judge Berman Jackson said.
Officials reacted swiftly to the news.
“Justice has to be served,” Gov. Pat Quinn said, “and if you did the crime, you have to do the time.”
“It’s a heartbreaking situation,” Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters. “It just breaks my heart to think about what this means for the children, but it’s clear that he did something that’s very, very wrong, and he’s paying a heavy price for it.”
Jackson’s father said in a statement he never realized the impact his son’s bi-polar disorder had on his life.
“Today I speak as a father. I was proud of Jesse Jr. as he stood before the judge and accepted full responsibility for his actions. He was remorseful. He is recovering. He has highs and lows. I have a greater appreciation for it now,” Jackson’s statement read.
In preparation for the sentencing hearing on Wednesday, attorneys for Jackson named their first choices for where the man might spend time behind bars: the Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Ala., and the Federal Correctional Institution at Butner, in North Carolina.
Both made the top 10 in a 2009 Forbes list of the country’s cushiest federal prisons. The Montgomery facility is “excellent,” according to defense attorney and expert on federal prisons Alan Ellis. Butner is “an attractive place; well-run, well-managed,” he said.
If Jackson is placed in a cell at Butner, he will be on the same compound as white-collar criminal Bernie Madoff, who is prisoner 61727-054 in the federal system. All of the buildings on the compound are named after Atlantic Coast Conference schools, and the prison is about an hour drive from Jackson’s alma mater, North Carolina A&T.
Former inmates at Butner include John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, and televangelist Jim Bakker.
By: Pete Williams and Matthew DeLuca