Jesse L. Jackson Jr., the namesake of the famed civil rights leader and once-promising Illinois congressman, was sentenced to 21 / 2 years in prison Wednesday for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money to fund an extravagant lifestyle over many years.

In an emotional hearing in federal court in the District, Jackson said he failed to separate his personal life from his political activities and ?could not have been more wrong.?



Jackson, 48, and his wife, Sandra Stevens Jackson, pleaded guilty in February to using about $750,000 in campaign funds to pay for high-end items, such as fur wraps and a gold-plated Rolex watch, in addition to private-school tuition and trips to Costco.

?I misled the American people, I misled the House of Representatives,? Jackson said as he dabbed his eyes with a pile of tissues. ?I was wrong and I do not fault anyone.?

He asked to serve his term in Alabama, ?far away from everybody for awhile.?

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson (no relation) said the former congressman and his wife used his campaign funds as a ?personal piggy bank.?

?There may be blurred lines for Congress to follow when their lives are political, this case did not come near those areas,? she said after a more than three-hour hearing. ?This was a knowing, organized joint misconduct that was repeated over many years.?

The judge also ordered Jackson to perform 500 hours of community service that is unrelated to politics. She sentenced Sandra Jackson to one year in prison.

Prosecutors said in court papers that Jesse Jackson Jr. was driven by ?greed and entitlement,? and they asked the judge to sentence him to a prison term of four years, which falls on the lower end of federal guidelines.

In court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves called Jackson?s crimes ?staggering,? in part because the couple had sufficient independent financial resources, earning nearly $350,000 in 2011.

?These were extreme abuses that strike at the integrity of the campaign finance system,? Graves said.

The defense team asked for a term of less than four years, saying that a shorter term is critical to Jackson?s mental health and that a lengthy sentence would be ?devastating? to the couple?s two children ? ages 13 and 9.

?His public fall from grace has already made an example of him, warning other politicians and elected officials of the dangers of personal use of campaign funds,? Jackson?s attorneys wrote in their sentencing memos.

The downfall of the Illinois Democrat began when he was implicated in allegations that then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) tried to sell to the highest bidder an interim appointment to the Senate seat vacated by president-elect Barack Obama. Jackson was not charged, but prosecutors investigated allegations that he directed his fundraiser to bring in millions for the governor.

Jackson?s personal life was unraveling, too. Before resigning from the House in mid-November, he disappeared from Washington for several weeks without explanation. He later announced that he was being treated for depression and released a statement saying he suffered from bipolar disorder.

In heavily redacted court documents, Jackson?s attorneys asked for some leniency because of his mental health and said his condition could worsen ?under the stress of incarceration.?

The defense team said Jackson should be judged for his 17-year career in Congress and record of advocating for some of Chicago?s poorest residents. Nearly a dozen members of Congress wrote letters on his behalf, as did some constituents who said Jackson had intervened to help them.

The courthouse was also inundated with dozens of letters from Chicago-area residents who urged the judge to send a strong message against public corruption.

Prosecutors said Jackson should not get credit for doing his job as a public servant. The U.S. attorney?s office also took issue with what they described as limited information from Jackson?s doctors about why he could not receive the treatment he needs while incarcerated.

Jackson ?provided no evidence that any causal link exists between his mental health condition and his criminal conduct,? prosecutors said.

The plea agreement Jackson signed this year outlined the extent to which the couple did not distinguish between their personal and political finances. The campaign?s office was in Jackson?s basement. His wife, a former Chicago alderman, was his campaign manager.

The Jacksons admitted using campaign credit cards to make approximately 3,100 personal purchases over seven years starting in August 2005. Among the expenses: a $466 dinner at the Mandarin Oriental?s CityZen restaurant; $10,000 for multiple flat-screen TVs and DVD players from Best Buy; and $2,300 in transportation services at Disney World.

The Jacksons also spent campaign money on appliances for their Chicago home, including a washer, dryer and refrigerator, and on renovations at their home near Dupont Circle.

In letters to the judge, Jackson?s parents tried to provide insight into their son?s conduct. His father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., suggested that his son might have begun to ?foil his own ambitions? around the time of his stomach weight-loss surgery in 2004.

His mother, Jacqueline Jackson, wrote: ?Growing up in the shadow of his father, Jesse Jr. has always tried desperately to live up to the expectations we have had for him. I think perhaps too hard, he has tried.?



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