Jesse Jackson Jr. betrayed his devoted black constituents, stuffed his pockets with campaign cash, and now, as a result of his greed and arrogance, his fate rests in the hands of a federal judge.
The former congressman from Illinois, the son of icon Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., could spend several years in prison for repeated theft.
Jackson Jr. wiped tears from his eyes and his wife, Sandra, cried as they both pleaded guilty Wednesday to spending $750,000 on lavish and unusual gifts for themselves, including $7,000 for two mounted Elk heads.
“Sir, for years I lived off my campaign,” Jackson Jr. told U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins inside a federal courtroom in Washington, D.C. “I used money I shouldn’t have used for personal purposes.”
“I am guilty, your honor,” Jackson Jr. said. “I accept responsibility.”
Jackson Jr. is guilty of absolute fraud. He was living in luxury, far above his means and suddenly it all came crashing down around him. Every black citizen in Chicago who gave Jackson Jr. one dollar or one hundred dollars should be outraged and angry at Jackson Jr. who enriched himself on the backs of loyal donors, many of whom are seniors and single mothers struggling to make ends meet.
Family and friends say Jackson Jr. is remorseful and pleaded guilty because he feels bad about his larcenous behavior. But is Jesse Jr. apologetic for stealing campaign funds to support his extravagant lifestyle?
Or is Jackson Jr. apologetic only because he got caught?
For anyone wondering how serious Jackson Jr. is taking this case, consider this: He has asked Judy Smith, the famed Washington, D.C. crisis manager, to help handle this high-profile legal situation. “Scandal,” the hit television show on ABC, is based on Smith’s shadowy character played by actress Kerry Washington.
But this isn’t Hollywood — this is real life and Jackson Jr. is in real trouble. Jackson Jr. could face up to five years in prison and Judge Wilkins set sentencing for June 28.
It’s a sad fall from grace for Jackson Jr. who was once considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, a young charismatic politician who aspired to become mayor of Chicago – and possibly President of the United States.
Jackson Jr. and Sandra Jackson were considered a power couple in Washington and Chicago and were revered like royalty in some black social and political circles. But today, the Jacksons are both unemployed and Jackson Jr. could also lose his congressional pension. One television commentator suggested that the Jacksons should seriously consider a reality show to generate income.
But the burning question folks from D.C. to Chicago are asking, however, is whether Jackson Jr. will be ordered to jail.
“The bottom line is, I don’t know what sentence you’re going to get and you don’t know what sentence you’re going to get,” Judge Wilkins told Jackson Jr. inside the courtroom Wednesday.
Outside the federal courthouse, in a brief press conference, Jackson’s lawyer, Reid Weingarten, told reporters that he will ask Judge Wilkins for a fair sentence, saying Jackson is the father of two children and has a history of mental health problems.
“It turns out that Jesse has serious health issues,” Weingarten said. “… We are going to talk about them extensively with the court and those health issues are directly related to his present predicament. That is not an excuse. That is just a fact. And Jesse has turned a corner there as well.”
Standing directly behind Weingarten was Judy Smith. She never spoke to reporters but her presence was noticeable. Smith is working with the Jacksons, I assume, to prevent them from going to jail. Smith poured water for Jackson Jr. during the hearing and spoke with him before he walked into the courtroom.
According to court documents, Jesse Jr.’s campaign credit cards were used for $582,772 in personal expenditures, including a gold-plated men’s Rolex watch costing more than $43,000 and almost $10,000 in children’s furniture.
Other items include two hats belonging to the late singer Michael Jackson costing more than $8,000; a $5,000 football signed by U.S. presidents; and memorabilia from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and martial artist Bruce Lee.
Prosecutors said $60,000 was spent on restaurants, nightclubs and lounges; $31,700 on personal airfare; $16,000 on sports clubs and lounges; $17,000 on tobacco shops; $5,800 on alcohol; $14,500 on dry cleaning; $8,000 on grocery stores and $6,000 at drug stores, according to the Chicago Tribune.
As Jackson Jr. awaits his fate, so does his wife, Sandra, who pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return. Her offense carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. She will be sentenced on July 1.
Jackson Jr. and Sandra Jackson, the parents of two young children, are tangled in a high-profile scandal, which apparently requires the services of perhaps the best crisis manager on earth.
Indeed, this is a teachable moment for the entire Jackson family.