WASHINGTON – As a packed District of Columbia courtroom cleared Wednesday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the legendary civil rights leader, held his namesake son in a long embrace. The extended Jackson family had shown up, sisters and brothers and other relatives, taking over the first three rows of the marble federal courtroom.
Moments earlier, Jesse Jackson Jr., a once-promising Illinois congressman, had been sentenced to prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money to fund an extravagant lifestyle.
In an emotional hearing that capped Jacksons precipitous downfall, the longtime House member said he would serve as an example to all of Congress for failing to separate his personal life from his political activities, and that he could not have been more wrong.
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.
Jackson, 48, was sentenced to two and a half years and his wife, Sandra Stevens Jackson, 49, to a term of 12 months. The couple pleaded guilty in February to using about $750,000 in campaign funds to pay for items from the pedestrian to the luxurious: Car repairs and trips to Costco, in addition to fur wraps and a gold-plated Rolex watch.
As the Jackson family looked on, the former congressman asked to serve his term at a facility not near Chicago or Washington but in Alabama, far away from everybody for a while, he said through tears.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is no relation, said Jackson and his wife, a former Chicago alderman, used campaign money as a personal piggy bank and that they were supposed to live up to a higher level of integrity.
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 hearing that lasted more than four hours. This was a knowing, organized joint misconduct that was repeated over many years.
Even as prosecutors asked the judge for stiffer sentences of four years for Jackson and 18 months for his wife, they acknowledged the wasted opportunity his demise represented for someone with so many privileges and talents.
Having an iconic father came with expectations and pressures, Jacksons lawyer Reid Weingarten and the judge noted.
While you were born into a family that could introduce you to world leaders, you were also burdened with the mantle of what youve called great expectations from the moment you were given your name, said the judge.
The former congressman will report to prison on or after Nov. 1 and his wife will serve her term after his release. Jackson could serve less than his full sentence if he receives credit for good behavior.