Former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was sentenced to 30 months in prison, followed by 36 months of supervised release, after pleading guilty to the misuse of $750,000 in campaign funds. His wife Sandi, a former Chicago alderman, received a one-year sentence and a period of supervised release for an additional year.
"The fall from grace is complete for my client," attorney Reid Weingarten told reporters after a nearly five-hour sentencing hearing. "Jesse Jackson went from an enormously respected, charismatic long-term member of Congress to a convicted felon who's about to be incarcerated. So it's a day of deep sadness."
Weingarten pronounced the sentence rendered as fair and applauded Judge Amy Berman Jackson for being extraordinarily thoughtful during every aspect of the procedure. As a result of her thoughtfulness, he said, the defense team won some concessions, the most important of which is that Jackson will serve his sentence first.
Both the judge and the prosecutors objected to the plan, but in the end, the judge allowed the family to confer and make the final decision.
Jackson must report to prison on or after Nov. 1 to serve his sentence, which could be cut short by a few months for good behavior.
Sandi Jackson, however, must serve her entire term. When rendering her decision, Judge Jackson emphasized that the former city legislator was not only actively complicit in her husband's criminal activity, but also used her own campaign funds improperly, violating the public trust on her own, and not because someone made her.
Husband and wife wept during their allocutions.
"I am the example for the whole Congress," he said, pausing periodically to collect himself. "I understand that I didn't separate my personal life from my personal activities, and I couldn't have been more wrong."
His wife in her address to the court noted that her "heart breaks everyday because of the hurt [this] has caused my babies."
Both defense teams pleaded for leniency because of the couple's two children, aged 13 and 9, and the harm being separated from their parents could cause. Sandi Jackson's attorney requested that she not receive any prison time at all.
"Give me her time," Jackson said, if his wife must serve a sentence.
Both notions were swiftly dismissed by the judge and the prosecutors. The judge in rendering her decision, noted that no expert evidence had been submitted to show the children would experience irreversible harm and that unlike other families in similar situations, the Jacksons have loving extended families who can provide support and access to professional help, if needed. In addition, she noted, the couple has had plenty of time to prepare the children for what's coming.
Not sending Sandi to jail would send the wrong message to others tempted to engage in similar wrongdoing, the judge and prosecutors both argued, particularly in light of the wanton greed the couple had exhibited, stealing not to make ends meet but to finance a lavish lifestyle they could not afford and absolutely did not need to live well.
But more important, they emphasized, it would tell people like the constituents the couple once served that there are two systems of justice: one for those who have certain advantages and another for those who have little to nothing at all.
Jackson's mental health was a significant consideration in sentencing but not enough to keep him from behind bars. His attorney and his father, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson Sr., however, each expressed the hope that the disclosure of his illness and how it may have affected his behavior will help others recognize and develop a deeper understanding of what being bipolar means.
"I've had to raise many questions to myself about did I confuse success for sickness. Jesse's been driven to succeed, to be effective," the elder Jackson said, noting a few of his son's achievements on Capitol Hill that greatly benefited his constituents, "not realizing he began to take these highs and lows."
Bipolar was never a part of his lexicon until his son was diagnosed, he added, praising his namesake for not using the illness to defend dishonorable behavior.
"Jesse is very sick. This time a year ago I really thought we may have lost him," Jackson said. "I think he's strong enough to accept the challenges put before him by the judge, but this has been a very painful journey for our family."
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(Photo: AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
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