Jesse Jackson Jr pleads guilty to graft

Former congressman admits he misused $750,000 in campaign funds to "finance extravagant lifestyle".
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2013 11:30
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson and his wife attended their son's court hearing on Wednesday [AFP]

Jesse Jackson Jr, a former US congressman and the son of a prominent civil rights leader, has pleaded guilty to criminal charges that he misused $750,000 in campaign funds by spending it on personal items during the last seven years.

Jackson faces up to five years in prison and a fine under the terms of his deal with prosecutors. His wife, Sandra Jackson, also pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges of filing false joint federal income tax returns.

Sandra Jackson, who was a member of the Chicago city council until her resignation last month, admitted that from 2006 to 2012 she failed to report $600,000 in income that she and her husband earned from 2005 to 2011.

The list of items purchased with campaign funds includes a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch and nearly $10,000 worth of children's furniture. His wife spent $5,150 on fur capes and parkas, the court documents said. The tab for personal expenditures at restaurants, nightclubs and lounges cost ran to more than $60,000.

Under the plea deal, Jackson must forfeit $750,000, plus tens of thousands of dollars' worth of memorabilia items and furs.

Before entering the plea, Jesse Jackson told the judge that he had "never been more clear in my life" in his decision to plead guilty. He added later, "Sir, for years I lived in my campaign," and said he used money from the campaign for personal use. 

'Tragic' case

US attorney Ronald Machen called the case "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.''

Jackson had been a Democratic congressman from Illinois from 1995 until he resigned last November, and was considered a bright political figure with a shot at higher office. His father, Jesse Jackson, is a prominent civil rights campaigner.

Jackson and his wife are both scheduled to be sentenced this summer, and remain free until then.


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