The downward spiral for former congressman Jesse L. Jackson Jr. took another dramatic turn Friday when federal prosecutors in Washington laid out their criminal case against the once-promising Illinois Democrat, accusing him of misusing campaign funds to benefit himself and his wife. Among the purchases were fur coats, a high-end watch and a football autographed by presidents.
Jackson, 47, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit false statements, mail fraud and wire fraud in the misuse of approximately $750,000 in campaign funds, according to court papers filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington.
The court filing was a clear signal that Jackson, who was first elected to the House of Representatives in the mid-1990s, intended to plead guilty to the charge, which has a maximum penalty of five years in prison. No court date has been set.
Jackson’s expected plea would be another mile marker in his slow political and personal collapse, which began shortly after President Obama’s 2008 election. That had seemed to open up possibilities for Jackson, considered a likely successor to Obama in the Senate.
Instead, FBI agents arrested then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and charged him with trying to sell the interim appointment to the Senate seat from Illinois to the highest bidder, and Jackson was implicated in the scandal. Though not charged, he would never recover politically.
According to the documents released Friday, Jackson used campaign funds to buy a $43,350 gold Rolex watch along with almost $10,000 in children’s furniture that he had delivered to his home in the District.
Among other allegations, prosecutors say Jackson made direct expenditures of about $57,793 from the campaign’s accounts for personal expenses. The documents say he and a co-conspirator used a campaign credit card to make $582,773 worth of purchases for their own use.
Jackson’s wife, former Chicago alderman Sandra Stevens Jackson, was not named or charged in that case, but the description makes clear that she was the co-conspirator.
“That’s a big number as these things go,” said Stan Brand, a former House counsel who has represented defendants in this type of case. “That obviously isn’t the kind of case you would risk putting in front of a jury. That’s why people plead.”
The details of the case against Jackson were part of a document known as a “criminal information,” which cannot be filed without the consent of the defendant and which signals that a plea agreement is near.
Jackson’s wife was charged with filing false income-tax returns from 2006 through 2011, according to a separate criminal information in her case. That charge has a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Attempts to reach the Jacksons for comment were unsuccessful, but news reports in the Chicago media quote statements, issued by their attorneys, in which the pair take responsibility for their conduct.
Through a representative, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jackson’s father, declined to comment on the charges.
The criminal documents outline a series of illegal expenditures from the former congressman’s campaign account, including more than a dozen purchases of pop-culture artifacts that firmly establish him as someone who came of age in the 1970s and ’80s:
●$10,105 worth of Bruce Lee memorabilia, including four separate purchases of items associated with the late martial-arts film hero.
●$14,200 in random Michael Jackson memorabilia.
●$4,000 for a “Michael Jackson and Eddie Van Halen” guitar.
●$4,600 for a Michael Jackson fedora.●
In mid-November, when he announced his resignation from the House, Jackson signaled that he was in plea negotiations.
“I have made my share of mistakes. I am aware of the ongoing federal investigation into my activities and I am doing my best to address the situation responsibly, cooperate with the investigators,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
In the Blagojevich case, Raghuveer Nayak, who worked as a fundraiser for Blagojevich and Jackson, told investigators that Jackson instructed him to raise as much as $6 million for the governor’s campaign.
While Blagojevich ended up in federal prison in Colorado, the Justice Department never brought charges against Jackson in that case, but the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia pursued the campaign-finance allegations.
As the pressure built in the investigation and his family life imploded, Jackson eventually fled Washington for psychological treatment, abandoning Capitol Hill for several weeks without telling congressional leaders why he was absent. Later in the summer of 2012, his office announced that he was being treated for depression at the Mayo Clinic, whose doctors issued a more detailed statement in mid-August saying he suffered from bipolar disorder. Despite his months-long absence from the District, Jackson won reelection Nov. 6 with 71 percent of the vote.
Elected to succeed a scandal-ridden lawmaker 17 years ago, Jackson had broad ambitions beyond Chicago’s South Side-based 2nd Congressional District. In addition to being seen as a potential successor to Obama in the Senate, Jackson was touted as a potential Chicago mayor, Illinois governor or possibly even a presidential candidate, fulfilling the legacy of his father, the famed civil rights leader whose 1980s presidential bids were the first credible campaigns by a black politician for the White House.
As the investigations unfolded, Jackson’s family life crumbled. An affair he had with a Washington nightclub hostess became public, something he called “a private and personal matter between me and my wife.”
His wife recently resigned as a Chicago alderman amid investigations of her campaign finances, sparking renewed talks that Jackson would settle his own case.
Paul Kane contributed to this report.
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