Jackson Pleads Guilty to Wire and Mail Fraud

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WASHINGTON -- Jesse L. Jackson Jr., the former Democratic representative from Illinois, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of wire and mail fraud in connection with his use of $750,000 in campaign funds to buy exotic items like fur capes and celebrity memorabilia.

As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors recommended that Mr. Jackson receive a sentence of 46 to 57 months in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 28.

"For years I lived off my campaign," said Mr. Jackson, 47, in response to questions from the judge, Robert L. Wilkins of Federal District Court, about the plea. "I used money I shouldn't have used for personal purposes."

At one point during the hearing, the judge stopped his questioning of Mr. Jackson, who was crying, so that Mr. Jackson could be given a tissue.

"Guilty your honor -- I misled the American people," Mr. Jackson said when asked whether he would accept his plea. His father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, his mother and several brothers and sisters accompanied him at the hearing.

Mr. Jackson's wife, Sandi, who also accompanied him in court, pleaded guilty later on Wednesday to a charge that she filed false income tax statements during the time that Mr. Jackson was dipping into his campaign coffers.

After his plea hearing, Mr. Jackson did not address members of the media. But his lawyer, Reid H. Weingarten, did, saying that his client had to "come to terms with his misconduct."

Mr. Weingarten said that Mr. Jackson had serious health issues that "directly related" to his conduct in the case.

Last summer, Mr. Jackson took a medical leave from Congress and was later treated for bipolar disorder. After winning re-election in November, he resigned, citing his health and the federal investigation.

"That's not an excuse, it's just a fact," said Mr. Weingarten.

Mr. Jackson's condition has improved, Mr. Weingarten said, giving him optimism about Mr. Jackson's future.

The plea is yet another chapter in the downward spiral of Mr. Jackson's career.

Elected to Congress in 1995 at age of 30 from a district on the South Side of Chicago, where he had grown up, Mr. Jackson was once one of the prominent young African-American politicians in the country, working on issues related to health care and education for the poor.

But as federal authorities investigated Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich of Illinois for trying to sell the Senate seat that President Obama vacated in 2008, they uncovered evidence that one of Mr. Jackson's friends had offered to make a contribution to Mr. Blagojevich's campaign in exchange for the seat.

Mr. Jackson, who has said he had no knowledge of the offer, was never charged in the case. Nevertheless, his name became synonymous with the case.

A year before the offer for the Senate seat was made, according to documents released by federal prosecutors, Mr. Jackson began to use his campaign funds to buy jewelry. In July 2007, Mr. Jackson was in possession of a $43,350 gold-plated men's Rolex watch that he bought with campaign funds, according to documents released by prosecutors.

Mr. Jackson also used campaign funds until 2010 to buy exotic items, like fur capes, celebrity memorabilia and expensive furniture.

Among those items were a $5,000 football signed by American presidents and two hats that once belonged to Michael Jackson -- including a $4,600 fedora.

Mr. Jackson also bought Bruce Lee memorabilia and items that once belonged to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2008, Mr. Jackson had $5,150 worth of fur that he had bought with campaign funds sent to him in Washington from a furrier in Beverly Hills, Calif. Among those items was an $800 fur cape and a $1,200 reversible mink parka.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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