He was considered one of Chicago’s rising stars, the eldest son of iconic civil rights leader and former Presidential candidate, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, ably representing Illinois’ 2nd Congressional district from 1995 until just this past December. His career ended when he was forced to resign under the weight of charges that will likely send him to prison. From Politico:
Former Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) will plead guilty to conspiring with his wife to illegally spend $750,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, including a $43,000 Rolex watch, fur coats and memorabilia associated with Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Bruce Lee, according to information obtained by POLITICO.
The charges against him include conspiracy, making false statements, and mail and wire fraud.
Prosecutors will recommend a prison sentence of between 46 months and 57 months for Jackson Jr., as well as a fine of $10,000 to $100,000, and forfeiture of a yet-to-be-determined portion of the misspent $750,000 in campaign funds.
In a stunning turnaround in what was hoped to be a meteoric rise, Jackson was clearly paving a path to higher places; with his pedigree, his accruing experience, and his undeniable charm and good looks, he was considered a frontrunner for a House Democratic leadership position, maybe even an Illinois Senate seat and, from there…well, sky’s the limit.
Until the notorious “curse of Chicago politics” got to him. That deep, systemic, unapologetic political culture that says, “look the other way, bend a few rules, line a few pockets, wink, nod, and look good while you’re doing it.” Just ask Rod Blagojevich, he of the ebony pompadour and slick, facile manner. Actually, that’s a good place to start. Rod Blagojevich.
It was Jackson’s relation with Blago that started the downward trajectory. Beyond his role as the son of Jesse Jackson and the representative from Illinois, Jackson’s profile shot into broader public discourse during the smarmy proceeding that followed Barack Obama’s first term election and departure from the Illinois Senate. Left with that empty seat, then governor Blagojevich began his unseemly and ultimately illegal bidding war for the coveted position in a manner that was so absurd, so brazen in its open flouting of the law, that it was only a matter of time before he came tumbling down. As his trial evolved, a great deal of incriminating information came to the fore, including the allegation that, in the midst of all the chicanery, Jackson allegedly threw his bid into the ring (according to Illinois businessman, Raghuveer Nayak, who has also been indicted on tax and fraud charges), promising Blago he’d raise $6 million for the governor’s reelection campaign in exchange for that Senate appointment.
We all know what happened to Blago: the man liked to talk and it was wiretaps on his phone that took him down and put him in prison until at least 2024. It was pure Chicago. And though tainted by the backwash of this seedy endeavor, Jackson firmly denied ever having made that offer and nothing was ever proven. But seeds were planted….
The current scandal reads like the laundry list of an amoral corporate raider with a greed problem, or despot digging deep into his country’s coffers to finance a life of luxury. What it doesn’t read like is the actions of a passionate lawmaker looking to do right by his constituents, uphold the law, and build a life and career of honor and integrity. Nope. Nothing like that.
The full indictment can be read here (in pdf form). It includes a complex scheme to “reappropriate” funds from campaign donors to finance luxury trips, cover the Jackson children’s school tuition, pay bills, even cover banal household supplies. While it was noted that none of the money was from public coffers, the sheer – very brazenness of the methods of delivery was stunning:
The government will allege the Jacksons lied on campaign finance and House financial disclosure forms to cover up the fact that they were using campaign money to build a lifestyle way beyond their means. Federal investigators sank their teeth into the couple, even conducting an apparent sting operation in August 2012. An undercover employee bought two mounted elk heads that Jackson Jr. had bought from a Montana taxidermist with campaign funds.
The $750,000 in alleged misspent campaign funds included thousands of individual transactions that ranged from airplane tickets, booze and cigars to groceries. Jackson Jr. repeatedly used campaign funds to pay down the couple’s credit-card balances. In one instance, Jackson Jr.’s campaign paid Sandi Jackson’s business $36,000 for “billboard expenses.” A week later, prosecutors say, Sandi Jackson transferred the same amount from her business to the Jacksons’ personal account, from which it was used to pay down personal debts.
The Jacksons used campaign funds to cover even the most basic of necessities, including cleaning supplies, bathrobes, underwear, toilet paper, toothpaste, soap, vitamins and stuffed animals, among other things, according to prosecutors. They also spent freely on luxuries, including home electronics, a trip to a Martha’s Vineyard spa for a member of Sandi Jackson’s family, Walt Disney World transportation services and charges of more than $4,000 on a 2006 cruise, court documents allege. [Source]
Sandi Jackson has also been charged in a separate indictment for her part in the fraud. [See her indictment here in pdf form]
It has been reported by the Huffington Post that both Jacksons have signed individual plea deals:
Per the terms of a plea deal, Jackson could face anything from probation to up to 58 months — or more than four-and-a-half years — in jail, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Sources previously told ABC Chicago that Jackson Jr.’s deal was signed Feb. 1 and specifically includes a guilty plea for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and false statements.
Attorney Tom Kirsch confirmed to the Associated Press that Sandi Jackson has pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud, a charge that carries a maximum three-year sentence.
If there is anything that mitigates the actions of this once-promising political contender, it could be his admission of “bipolar disorder II,” a diagnosis that’s been verified by the estimable Mayo Clinic. He has also made no attempt to excuse or justify his behavior, instead, has issued a statement taking full responsibility for his actions, the excerpt below a needed shot of contrition:
“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. Still I offer no excuses for my conduct and I fully accept my responsibility for the improper decisions and mistakes I have made. To that end I want to offer my sincerest apologies to my family, my friends and all of my supporters for my errors in judgment and while my journey is not yet complete, it is my hope that I am remembered for the things that I did right.”
Despite the gravity of the charges and the disappointment of a district, a state, and, most disheartening, a family, the hope is that Jackson will emerge from whatever punishment is his to take a better, stronger man. Whether he’ll ever again have a place is politics is questionable, but Chicago’s a forgiving place and the city could always use another powerful community organizer. For now, his children and his family will all suffer the consequences of a misguided lack of principles. Or the actions of an emotionally fragile man. To be determined.
For his father, the pain is clear. See video: